City pupils take on 100 Book Challenge Goal: A program that started with a Philadelphia teacher's tutoring experiences is being used in 10 Baltimore schools.

November 15, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THE MORE CHILDREN read, the better they'll read.

That hardly seems a revolutionary idea but, in Baltimore, where so many school libraries and classrooms have bare shelves, and where only 16 of 123 elementary schools have full-time librarians, it's an idea with stark limitations.

But in 10 city schools, pages are turning by the thousands as kids devour books. This phenomenon is the result of a program -- a Philadelphia import -- called the 100 Book Challenge.

With a $130,000 grant from the Abell Foundation, the schools have been stocked with 26,000 books. Children are challenged to read 100 each semester, with the help of teachers and volunteer tutors. Teachers log progress on a big chart and celebrate success.

At Cecil Elementary on the northeast side of the inner city, pupils read books 30 minutes a day in school and 30 minutes at home. The books are color-coded by reading level, so that even the poorest readers can tackle something suitable.

The idea was tested this summer at civic leader Sally Michel's SuperKids Camp, a program aimed at strengthening the reading of 2,000 city schoolchildren.

"We had several of our children in the SuperKids Camp," said master teacher Roxanne Forr, who's in charge of the 100 Book Challenge at Cecil Elementary. "It's absolutely amazing that I could pick them out, without exception, when I listened to them read. I didn't have to ask if they'd been to the camp."

Maggie Kennedy, who coordinates the program at Medfield Heights Elementary in North Baltimore, said most children at her school have read 50 to 100 books, "though we didn't get rolling until the end of September. When the children meet me, they don't say, 'Hello, Mrs. Kennedy.' They say, 'I've read 55 books.' "

"Book" doesn't mean a 300-page novel. At the "yellow" level, the simplest in the program's color code, books have a few pages, each with a picture and a single word. But by second grade, pupils are reading longer "chapter" books.

Jane Hileman, a 25-year reading teacher, began the 100 Book Challenge in Philadelphia three years ago. "It really grew out of my experiences in tutoring," Hileman said. "I saw the regular patterns as children learned to read. I saw the independence of it, and I realized again that reading is thinking, not memorizing words.

"I also realized that the secret to middle-class academic success is home reading. The average high-poverty home has zero books. So we filled classrooms and homes with fun-to-read books, color-coded by reading level, and then we provided social supports and other incentives. We allow children to earn levels of distinction. The more you read, the more famous you get in school."

The 100 Book Challenge has little research evidence behind it but Hileman said the 80 Philadelphia schools in the program are doubling children's reading achievement in a year, and teachers who worked in this summer's Baltimore SuperKids Camp reported gains of six months in achievement by participants after the two-month session.

"For a regularly functioning child," said Hileman, "the reading level should increase by six months after reading 100 books."

The other city schools in the 100 Book Challenge are Belmont, Calvin Rodwell, Curtis Bay, Eutaw-Marshburn, George Washington, Holabird, Mary E. Rodman and Patapsco.

Importance of knowledge of oral language

"Whatever your language, the foundations for reading are being laid before you enter school. A literacy rich child has been read to about 5,500 hours and comes to school with about 16,000 words in his speaking vocabulary. A literacy poor child has been read to about 500 hours and has only 4,000 words in his vocabulary. Already the literacy poor child is behind and is at a great disadvantage when learning to read. The knowledge of oral language may be the most important thing a child brings to school."

-- From "A Primer for Educators," by Dorothy Strickland

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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