Oldtown pupils turn books into miles

Pledges for each title will pay for field trips at impoverished school

November 28, 1999|By Shana Kesler | Shana Kesler,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

OLDTOWN -- In one of Allegany County's most impoverished schools, the children are getting excited about travel plans -- and books.

The two activities have been linked in a program at Oldtown School, where elementary pupils have been soliciting pledges for their reading to finance a field trip next spring.

"Oldtown Students Read Books/Will Travel" is the slogan of the reading program, and the children are eager to talk about it. The 20 third-graders in Kathy Bearinger's class fairly bounce with enthusiasm -- hands waving frantically in hopes of being chosen to respond to a question posed by Oldtown Principal Timothy Scaletta.

"I like reading. I'm a fluent reader. It's my favorite thing to do," said Joclynn Anderson, after getting the nod from Scaletta and dashing to the front of the class.

Nestled in the mountains, the rural school -- one of the few public schools in Maryland, and three in Allegany, with classes from kindergarten through 12th grade -- is striving to make each of its 270 students a fluent reader.

Oldtown ranks second in the county in the number of students (70 percent) receiving free or reduced-price lunches, a measure of poverty. The school reports that only three-fourths of the third-graders have shopped at the mall 20 miles away, and only five of them could recall seeing a movie at a theater.

Even so, the school showed substantial improvement last year in reading scores in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests.

Scaletta said the reading-field trip program will not only motivate the children.

"Basically, the program will teach them to set and reach goals," he said.

The program began in mid-September when each pupil, from kindergarten through sixth grade, set a goal of reading 20 books -- about one a week -- and collected pledges of a dollar a book.

The entire school is involved. The cafeteria is decorated with a banner and a brightly colored goal chart, which the fifth-graders are responsible for updating.

Construction-paper posters in the halls chart each grade's progress.

The school's elementary coordinator, Ginger Llewelyn, said the first-graders are "doing a wonderful job, and their class is becoming really strong readers."

"If we have fluent readers by the end of third grade, they should be able to do anything," Llewelyn said.

Plans for the trips are still being formed, with possibilities including the National Zoo in Washington for pupils from kindergarten through third grade, and Annapolis for the older pupils.

Sponsors include parents, older siblings, grandparents and neighbors. One teacher has chipped in -- Paula Duckworth, who sponsored her 24 sixth-graders in their reading of Jean Craighead George's book, "My Side of the Mountain."

The students also sent a letter to The Sun seeking support from a wider audience. To become a sponsor, send a check or money order in any amount to Oldtown School, Reading Program, 19210 Opessa St., Oldtown 21555.

The school will respond by sending the donor the name of the child sponsored, and the titles of the books he or she has read.

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