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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023

Reading Program Gives Gift That Keeps Giving


A couple weeks ago, I had occasion to chat with a friend of mine who was understandably puffed with pride over things he’d heard at a parent-teacher conference.

“My daughter,” he was saying, “has blossomed into a real writer and her voice has gotten loud in her writing.”

Interesting, I thought. Thus stimulated, our conversation turned deeper. What causes one child to excel in writing? What caused my friend’s daughter to be so much more advanced than her classmates?

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“Simple,” he said. “She reads. She reads a lot.”

My friend has an advanced degree from the University of California at San Diego.

What he did as a “kid” to entertain, and enlighten, himself was read. He has passed his love of reading to his daughter. She shuns the video games so endemic to her generation and cozies up instead with a good book.

All of this comes to mind because I have learned a lot about a wonderful program called San Diego READS through my wife Linda, who serves on its council. Jointly sponsored by San Diego City Schools and The San Diego Union-Tribune, the concept of the program is to put exciting and interesting reading materials into the hands of K-12 students.

Shortcomings In Reading

The more I have learned about this program, the more shocked I have become over our shortcomings in the area of reading. I’m not talking about textbooks. I am talking about books children read just to enjoy the experience of reading. Our classrooms and school libraries are woefully under-supplied, in many cases containing less than one book per student.

Reading and writing nurture the entire life’s experience. Technology is wonderful, but self-expression remains the benchmark for advancement. It all begins with reading. It can, therefore, “end” because of a lack of reading materials.

We care about our students. We showed that with the overwhelming passage of Proposition MM. We have to understand, however, that Prop MM provided funds for repairing and upgrading facilities. It did not include books.

That’s where San Diego READS comes into play. This is a wonderful example of grassroots involvement in the educational process. There are a number of ways to be involved, but I am going to focus on the most basic.

San Diego READS needs books!

‘Gently Used’ Books

San Diego READS is collecting what it calls “gently used” books at school sites and other locations, during the month of December, like Fashion Valley. Books are sorted and distributed to students at the appropriate grade levels. Those books deemed inappropriate for K-12 children are distributed to adult literacy programs. Needless to say, money is also accepted.

What I am thinking is that this is an ideal time to be checking around the house for books that have already been read. Hopefully, new books will be on every household’s holiday shopping list. San Diego’s youngsters in San Diego’s schools will devour the old books, the ones your family has already read.

It may be a challenge to get into your children’s rooms and check their closets and drawers and look under their beds and dig into their toy chests, but it will, literally, be a treasure hunt. That is how much value I attach to the experience of reading or, for that matter, being read to.

And the age-level really does not matter. The idea is to get fresh, up-to-date reading materials into our children’s hands. So much has happened in the last few years of the 20th century that even 10-year-old non-fiction books can be lamentably out-dated. We want our children, be they second-graders or high school seniors, to be reading about today’s world, the one they live in.

Innovative Program

San Diego READS is obviously a wonderful and innovative program. What is so nice about it is that it takes minimal effort on the part of everyone in the community to make it work. And there’s really no expense in taking a “gently read” Harry Potter or Amelia book out of the trunk and dropping it off at a neighborhood school. Why let such a resource lie dormant in your home when it could be stimulating other youngsters’ cerebral juices?

Before you venture into a mall or onto the Internet for this year’s holiday gift books, dig out your gently used gems and get them into anxious hands of yet another wave of youngsters. You’d be surprised how long “last year’s gift” can keep on giving.

Katz is the CEO of Manpower, Inc. and was co-chair of the Proposition MM committee.


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