Reading club spurs youngsters' interest

Elementary: At a West Baltimore school, third-graders opt to stay after class to read -- and talk about -- books.

June 20, 1999|By Ron Snyder | Ron Snyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At West Baltimore's George G. Kelson Elementary School, seven third-graders discussed Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad and took turns reading a page from Jacob Lawrence's book "Harriet and The Promised Land."

But this was no ordinary class. The school day had ended an hour earlier, and the children were taking part in a reading club started and run by volunteer Cash Hester, an employee at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Hester, who started the after-school program in March, said she got the idea after writing a children's book, which has not been published.

She began buying the books for it after being unable to obtain a grant.

`A social event'

"The idea is to make reading more of a social event for the children," Hester said. "I'm hoping to help kids improve their vocabulary while showing them reading is enjoyable."

Hester said she "adopted" Kelson Elementary because she knew its principal, Joyce Hughes. The children, who were selected by their teachers, range from advanced readers to those who might struggle at times.

"We decided on having third-graders because they are the ones taking the MSPAPs [Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests]," Hester said.

`Fantastic' results

"We are hoping to have the children start their own libraries at home and continue to read even after they move on from here," Hughes said. "This is only the first year of the program, and the results have been fantastic."

The group, which meets for an hour every two weeks, reads the book and talks about it.

Hester said she helps the pupils when needed but wants them to be able to figure it out for themselves.

"Being able to read is one thing, but if they don't understand what they are reading, it does them no good," Hester said.

Hester said she chose books dealing mainly with black characters, in keeping with the demographics of the school, but plans to incorporate a wider selection.

"I am a strong believer in diversity, and I believe that if the children get into the books, I can take them all over the world without leaving home," Hester said.

Shiquita McCoy, 9, one of the children in the program, said being able to talk to other children her age about a book makes it more fun to read.

"Miss Cash has taught us a lot about sounding out words, and also about history with the books she has given us," Shiquita said.

"I like hearing what other people think about books, and I enjoy telling them what I think," said 8-year-old Paige Jones.

Reading to their parents

Not only are the children excited about reading in the club, but they have also taken the books home and read them to their parents. If they miss a meeting, Hester said, they make sure to get a copy of the next book from another member.

Hester is happy about the reaction her book club has received but wants to do more. In the fall, she said, she hopes to take the pupils on field trips so that they can discuss books and learn about places in the city.

She said the BMA, Port Discovery and Harbor Bank have agreed to participate and that she hopes more businesses will follow.

"The potential for this type of program is so great," Hester said. "This is something that can be done in 25 schools if the resources and the people become available."

Pub Date: 6/20/99

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