The Times West Virginian

October 13, 2013

How can we make reading a strong foundation?

Times West Virginian

— I’ll admit that I was a bookworm in my youth. I even remember the day that I “learned” how to read.

“Sesame Street” and the “Electric Company” had taught me a lot about sounding out words. And I recognized some sight words. But I vividly remember holding that first book in my hand and making my way through it page by page, following a story line.

After that, I was hooked. I wanted new books before toys. I was in a first-name basis with librarians. I borrowed books from my older siblings. And then my parents. I read books above my understanding of the world. For instance, I had no idea that “To Kill a Mockingbird” was about racism the first time I read it in third grade. I didn’t figure that out until I read it in high school.

I went on to get a lit degree and read more books than I can remember. But after graduation, I slacked off on reading since it felt more like a chore after so many years of reading to learn and comprehend and criticize.

I didn’t read much until I started to raise three little bookworms of my own. They ask for books for Christmas, too. I think my daughter might be what you would call an “avid” reader. She devours books. She’s in the middle of two series of books now, trading back and forth depending in her mood, and adding at least one more in the mix so that she is reading no less than three books concurrently. And she never forgets where she left off in the story since the last time she picked it up.

With three little readers in my house, it was hard for me to understand a recent study that was released earlier this month. According to a study conducted by National Assessment of Educational Process, 73 percent of students in West Virginia are not reading proficiently by the end of the third grade. Compare that to the national average of 68 percent of American third-graders who fall under that same classification.

Without a firm grasp on the foundation that reading provides for the educational process, our children are destined to fail at mastery of core subjects in the coming years. It paints a bleak picture for the future of higher education and a workforce prepared to compete on a global scale, too.

It translates to 1 in 6 not graduating from even high school, much less pursuing higher education, degree programs and advanced training. I know how blessed my kids are. They have parents with college education, parents who have read to them since infancy and have encouraged them to read on their own, too. They don’t have to worry about some of the problems other kids do, like safety and money and hunger. They have strong role models of both genders and all value education above everything else.

So many children don’t have that kind of support system. And it’s upsetting to me as an advocate of education that more is not being done on a national level to combat this problem. But what can we do? How can we fix this? What steps can we take to make sure that the Three Rs, and especially reading, are the foundation for education in West Virginia and beyond?

We took that question to our online readers last week, the ones who log on to vote in our online poll question. Last week we asked “A recent study found that 7 in 10 West Virginia third-graders are not proficient in reading. What can be done to solve this?”

And here’s what you had to say:

• Work on the social ills that cause the problem — poverty, hunger, lack of quality childcare — 5.36 percent.

• Invest in programming that encourages reading at home and in schools — 8.93 percent.

• With this generation? Social media, texting and smartphones are destroying any chance of reading and writing improvement — 23.21 percent.

• Stop focusing on technology, touch screens and computers and start cracking open books in the school — 62.5 percent.

Hey, we could all stand to be unplugged for a while. It’s worth a shot. This week, let’s talk about the issue on everyone’s mind — the government shutdown. Who is at fault? Log on. Vote. Email me or respond online.

Misty Poe

Managing Editor