My grandmother’s first job was that of schoolteacher in a country schoolhouse. She did many things after that, including a stint as a Rosie the Riveter at Boeing during World War II. In 1983, at the service honoring her long and storied life, my gramma’s great-nephew Tom told me that he had been one of her students in that country schoolhouse, more than a half-century earlier. He said that as soon as she recognized he was struggling with reading, she worked with him until he became a confident reader. By the time I met him, Tom was retired from a successful career in the Air Force that had taken him all over the world. He credited my grandmother — his second-grade teacher — with changing his life forever.
This is what reading does: it changes your life. According to Sacramento READS! the most important predictor of school success and high school graduation is grade-level reading by the end of third grade. Sacramento READS! Literacy by Third Grade Campaign is a ten year initiative to ensure all children in Sacramento can read at grade level by the end of third grade. Children who can’t read often don’t finish school. Not finishing school leads to unemployment or underemployment, or, at worst, to crime. There is a distressing correlation between literacy skills and incarceration rates.
And this is why I like programs like Reading Partners. It works with local elementary schools to support students from low-income communities who are reading 6 months or more below grade-level. Reading Partners recruits and trains community volunteers to work one-on-one with students for 45 minutes twice a week following a structured curriculum.
My grandmother understood the power of reading. She used to give me dimes to buy comic books (“funny books,” as she called them), knowing that if I thought reading was fun, I would grow up loving to read. I did. By third grade, I had already abandoned Little Lulu for The Black Stallion. In junior high, I discovered Harper Lee, the Brontës, Jane Austen and J. D. Salinger.
And so it went.
I read my way through high school, college, and grad school. Education is what changed my life forever, but it all started with reading. Am I any smarter for having read War and Peace? Not at all, but my life is infinitely richer. These are riches that all who can read can also share.