As part of SMART Reading’s 20th anniversary efforts in 2011-2012, we launched a story collection campaign to invite individuals — volunteers, educators, parents, former SMART Reading students — to share about their experiences with SMART Reading. We received a great response and gathered more than 100 fabulous stories about the many ways in which SMART Reading is improving lives, big and small. Enjoy!
I was introduced to Christian, a first grader, early in October about six years ago. He was a shy little guy with a look of neglect and he did not respond to my cheerful welcome to SMART.
In the weeks ahead, I tried every approach that had worked so well in the past, but Christian showed little interest in those wonderful books. Progress was slow.
It was early in February when he picked up Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel. There was a spark of interest , and he grew to simply love those stories. We laughed about their amusing adventures, and we talked about what was funny, sad, scary or happy. We played games: “Christian, how many times can you find the word Frog in this story?” “Seven,” cries Christian triumphantly. After we had enjoyed all four books in the series, Christian began to choose other books.
Finally, it was the last day of SMART for the year. Of course, we chose to read a Frog and Toad book. I asked Christian if he had a friend like Frog or Toad,someone to play with, someone to help him, someone he realy liked. He paused for a moment and then answered “yes.” “What’s your friend’s name?” I asked. “It’s you” he said. Holding back tears, I assured him that he was my very dear friend, too. We said our goodbyes hoping we would be reading together again in the fall.
Christian did not return. I hope that wherever he is he still remembers our happy times sharing books. As for me, in my heart we will always be Frog and Toad together.
Marilee Woodrow, Lane County
Several years ago, I started with one young reader when she was in a blended classroom of 1st and 2nd grade students. She struggled to recognize and sound out even the simplest of words. That whole first year, she struggled and tried so hard. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to – she loved the books and could relate every story detail back to me. She was just struggling to make any reading progress. The next year, she was better, but still having a really rough time. We continued reading at her comfort level with my throwing in challenges to encourage and advance any progress. Often we would trade reading pages in a book. In March of her 3rd grade year, she returned from the SMART book table with several books. She picked the first one, opened it and started reading – and read the entire book. That was it! She read to me the rest of the year! The light bulb had turned on! What fun we had the rest of the SMART year! (After that year when we saw each other in the halls, or her classroom, we exchanged a smile, a wink, a wave, and an occasional hug. We even shared lunch one day in the cafeteria – after she tapped on the SMART room window one day and asked if I would have lunch with her. She caught me up on all her book reading!)
I’ve been a volunteer with SMART in Lane County for 10 years. Four years ago I became one of a three-member Coordinating team at Riverbend Elementary School. And I’m proud to be a member of the local Leadership Chapter. In all the years I’ve been involved, I have consistently observed that SMART’s community of volunteers is a proven success, co-efficient for each young reader’s life success formula. The community benefits don’t stop there. SMART’s successful mission radiates out, not only to the daily associations of the volunteers themselves: friends, family, work associates and social networks, but also from our SMART kids. The result is a sustaining process of teamwork where each part can grow and benefit from being a part of the whole, but, too, where the whole, that of improving community literacy, has an even greater impact.
One of my SMART kids said “When I read a book, I like to climb inside it and pretend I’m one of the characters – I love to read!” Another boy excitedly remarked “My family speaks Spanish, but they don’t read me Spanish at home. I want to learn how to read it!” as we recorded the title 1001 First Words in Spanish as his Give Away Take Home Book. He was really looking forward to sharing that book at home with his parents.
This is what SMART is – and what it achieves. Like a pebble dropping into a puddle of water, the ripples of success spread far and wide.
Pat Ehm, Lane County
I have been a volunteer reader in the SMART program for 10 years. I was reading at Fairfield Elementary school for seven years, and the last three years at Cesar Chavez. I enjoy the one-on-one time with each child. It’s rewarding seeing their reading skills improve as the year progresses. It is also fun to see their excitement when they get to pick a book every two weeks and take it home. One boy I read with couldn’t believe he could keep the book he chose. The SMART program is well worth our time as volunteers.
Dennis Dietrich, Deschutes County
I was a SMART volunteer for several years at Bear Creek Elementary School in Bend. One year I had a student that was in need of some special care. We’ll call him Eric. Eric had a way of getting into trouble and not being particularly studious, so his teacher nominated him for the SMART program. I worked with Eric the entire term, reading with him weekly at my lunch break from work. Eric noticeably improved that term, and his teacher thanked me at the end of the term. But the best thanks I got was several months later, in Fred Meyer’s music department. I heard a voice say “Mr. Dennis?” I looked around and saw no one. Then I felt something tapping my leg, and I looked down. There was Eric. “Mr. Dennis, it is good to see you. Thanks for all the time you spent with me.” You can’t beat moments like that in your life. I will never forget Eric, and I am sure he is an aerospace engineer somewhere today!
I got involved with SMART for a few different reasons. A good friend was a reader with the Oasis program in the Sherwood School District and she suggested that I read with the SMART or Oasis program. I also have a degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis in early-childhood development and my program really encouraged reading a lot to children as a way to enforce reading skills. Lastly, my daughter was starting school and I thought reading with SMART would be a good way to be involved with her school. I had a great time with SMART. I enjoyed the kids and hopefully the kids enjoyed me. I wasn’t able to read last year, but have signed up to read in Hillsboro for this school year!
I was an early reader, but standardized tests in third grade brought to my teacher’s attention that I wasn’t comprehending the way I should. Mrs. Jordan worked with me for an hour a week, and by the third grade, I was reading at an eleventh grade level. I am living proof that one person can make a huge difference in a child’s ability to read to learn.
Rachel Lawrence, Multnomah County
One year I read with a 2nd grade boy named Rico. He was quiet and reserved and was new to the school still trying to make friends. One of those ‘tough guys’ that tried to maintain a cool composure and make sure he was impressing the rest of the students. He loved to read Dr. Seuss books and really thrived and lit up when we read them. One day, we read three or four complete Dr. Seuss books. At the end of our reading session I counted up the number of pages he had read that day. 127! He could hardly believe it, and to this day I have never witnessed a child bursting with more pride. Everyone he saw, he jumped up and down with excitement his fist pumping up and down in the air, and by the time we walked back to his classroom he had exclaimed ” Guess what?? I read 127 pages today!” loudly to no less than 20 students and teachers we passed. High fives were given all around and the smile on his face was truly priceless.
Laura Jean Jory, Multnomah County
Several years ago, Fred and I were volunteering at Vernon Elementary School. The child that Fred read with was from Mexico. The young boy did speak English, but he also spoke Spanish when he was at home. One day, when Fred came to read to him, the boy picked out a Spanish book. Fred told the boy that although he studied Spanish in high school, he has never been able to speak it fluently. The boy looked up at Fred and responded, “I’ll read it to you in Spanish, and you read it to me in English”. So, that’s what they did. This boy was so pleased! After they read through the book in both languages, he asked Fred to read it back to him in Spanish.
That is the story that I wanted to share. It is so fun to have this interchange with the two languages. It is one of the things that happen through the SMART program that can really tickle you.
Jen Ashley, Lane County
I came from a small town in Merrill, Ore. where the most popular class was ESL. Needless to say, teaching was a challenge. Being that I was one of the few kids not in ESL who had a stable home life, extra attention wasn’t given to me and my studies. Learning to read was a struggle for me, so my teacher, Ms. Havalina, sent me to SMART.
I had the same SMART volunteer for two years. Her name was Ingrid. She was an older woman from Austria who was extremely patient and kind. I enjoyed my time with her and was sad when it ended. But, every year until I moved I received a birthday card from Ingrid wishing me well and hoping that I will still loving to read.
Beth, Lane County
My SMART experience has been rewarding in many ways. When I met my reader, she was a very energetic and talented kindergartener! Being able to choose her own book(s) was awesome and made reading fun. We hit it off from day one. How fortunate the next year, I was assigned the same reader, now a growing and glowing 1st grader! Reading with children is so rewarding. I have read with other students and enjoy “filling in” if needed. One-on-one is a relaxed and fun way to learn- and to make a friend! (While on vacation, I sent a postcard to my SMART reader – a real highlight for both of us!!! ) Our SMART coordinator is wonderful. She is helpful, fun and encourages and praises every child. I am proud to participate and look forward to a new year and new faces!