40,000 students receive free books State reading campaign targets disadvantaged

April 26, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel and Marego Athans | Andrea F. Siegel and Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

More than 40,000 disadvantaged students across Maryland received free books and newspapers valued at more than $120,000 yesterday as officials opened a program to bring reading materials into their homes.

Several hundred guest readers went into classrooms in 96 schools to read in the kickoff of the Minds Across Maryland campaign, sponsored by the State Department of Education and a dozen businesses.

When a third-grade teacher at Anne Arundel County's Van Bokkelen Elementary School said pupils could choose a paperback to keep, young Mocha Taylor gasped, "For the rest of my life? Forever?"

"Yes, for the rest of your life," the teacher replied.

Mocha picked an A. A. Milne classic.

"I'm going to go home, and when I am done with all my homework, I am going to read it. One story a day," she said.

Van Bokkelen is Anne Arundel's most poverty-stricken school, where nearly every child is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch because of low family income.

"Any time you can let the children have something for their own and encourage reading, it's great," third-grade teacher Barbara Dorsey said.

An increasing number of children are starting kindergarten in Anne Arundel County so unfamiliar with the printed word that they don't know the left-to-right, top-to-bottom procedure for reading and hold books upside-down, reading teacher Andrea Grabowski said.

At Park Elementary School in Brooklyn Park, Gov. Parris N. Glendening sat cross-legged on the floor of a first-grade classroom, taking turns with the children reading passages from "The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash" by Trinka Hakes Nobel.

"We're succeeding. We're succeeding where more fortunate areas aren't," said Park Principal Diane Lenzi, noting improved attendance, test scores and numbers on the honor roll.

The reading program started a year ago when state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, her husband, Lou, and state coordinator Darla Strouse were trying to find ways to address the lack of home reading materials among 100,000 needy Maryland children.

Statewide, reading scores have been alarmingly flat on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP). The tests are given every May.

Business people, philanthropists, school officials and Bell Atlantic Corp. volunteers spent the morning reading at Baltimore County's Chase Elementary.

In Judy Henderson's third-grade class, Stephen A. Geppi, owner and publisher of Baltimore Magazine and president and chief executive officer of Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., sat in a rocker reading "Math Curse," about a child who believes her teacher put a curse on her when everything in her life turns into a math problem. Mr. Geppi's company donated 600 comic books to two schools.

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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