Fall traditionally signals the beginning of school and that has been under way for a few months. Children and families are well into their established daily routines. There is something else special about this time of year.

Something that started in our community fall 1992 and continues today. This successful, sustaining program is the SMART reading program. SMART is an acronym for Start Making A Reader Today.

Starting initially at John Jacob Astor Elementary School in Astoria and Seaside Heights Elementary School in Seaside, this program has grown and expanded to include Warrenton Grade School and Lewis and Clark Elementary and Capt. Robert Gray Elementary schools in Astoria.

For many volunteer readers, the SMART program has become a household word. They are familiar with how it partners adult volunteers with children in kindergarten, first, second or third grades for one hour a week for the sole purpose of reading.

SMART's proven success has been following the same recipe each year. It requires these basic ingredients:

• Take one child needing assistance with acquiring skills in reading;

• One volunteer who reads with this child and models his or her own love for reading;

• Combine the child and volunteer to share and experience hope and vision that the child will become a reader;

• Blend the child and volunteer with books at the appropriate reading and interest level of the child.

Put these ingredients together once a week for 30 minutes per child.

Expected yield: A stronger, more independent and confident student reader and a happy, gratified adult volunteer who has made a significant contribution to the life of a child.

This cookbook approach gets you to the heart of the matter, which is how the program works.

Please look to the adjoining box for facts and percentages about SMART in our county so you will have our local statistics to add to your information base.These numbers tell a story• In this 2002-03 school year, SMART will need 235 volunteers to read for one hour each week. Serving five schools in our county, it will require that number to make it work and help the identified children.

• More than 5,200 volunteer hours will be given to SMART during this school year. More than 37,000 volunteer hours have been given to the program to date.

• Because each child in the program is given two books per month to keep, SMART will give 2,976 books to Clatsop County students during the school year. More than 23,000 books have been given to students in the program to date.

• More than 150 Clatsop County businesses, organizations and individuals have contributed to SMART to help with the cost of purchasing books and coordinating the program. They know the need for this program continues.

• The average cost of operating the SMART program during this school year will be approximately $12,500 per school, or $250 per child. Forty to 50 percent of funding for program costs are raised from our local communities; the remainder is raised from larger statewide corporations and businesses.

• Most schools qualify for SMART by having a population of which 40 percent receive free and reduced lunches.

• There is a SMART coordinator that works at two different schools. Coordinators manage an average of 180 volunteers and 180 students each week.

• Students benefit from SMART as evidenced by documented test scores showing growth in word attack, comprehension and inference.These facts are real and tell the true story. SMART works! I feel so strongly about this reading program because I've seen it in action. I know that SMART helps with school attendance as children don't want to miss school and their reading time. I know that SMART helps build trust and relationships. When students consistently read with a volunteer who encourages them, they learn to take risks. Students become more secure and begin to read aloud in that safe reading environment created by the volunteer.

The gift of time

Volunteers give the most precious gift of all: They give their time. And, in the case of the SMART program, this gift comes in the form of reading. Reading with children and showing them how it all happens is what they do. Volunteers are not asked to teach reading; that is the job of the teachers in the schools. Volunteers are asked to read "with" the children and let the reading experience all come together. Children observe and listen to the volunteers to see how reading really happens.

It's those letters that become words and words that become sentences. It's those sentences that have thoughts that come together in paragraphs and tell stories. Volunteers read and demonstrate this every week for very eager beginning readers. It is not long before the children are joining in the reading and read along with the volunteers. And it just gets better each time the volunteer and child are together.

Astoria is a fortunate community because our citizens take ownership in what happens here. We have a wonderful volunteer base throughout the area, with many people taking endless hours to help worthy causes. I believe that SMART is a worthy cause and ask our citizens to consider giving this program some of their precious time. Children are the future and they need to know how to read. Many children in our county are at-risk readers and need additional help. Children who become successful readers have a greater likelihood of being successful adults.

It can be easy, but ...

Many children find learning to read as easy as learning to crawl or walk. They are successful and reap the fruits of being successful, such as praise and recognition.

But many children find learning to read a difficult and daunting task. These children are constantly challenged and fall behind. They are not successful. They need encouragement and repeated opportunities to see how to read. They can benefit so much from one-on-one time with a volunteer to observe, listen, read, enjoy and ultimately find the success they so badly want. This time with their volunteer is coupled with their classroom reading instruction and enhances the overall program for the child. The more a student reads, the better reader the student will become.

You can be part of this program and share in a child's dream to be a reader. It is just a phone call or school visit away. With five schools in our county having the program, there is bound to be a school near you. The children are there, waiting for volunteers to enlist and share the joys and rewards of reading with them. Volunteers are needed now. SMART must continue because the need is still here. It's time to read.

• In this 2002-03 school year, SMART will need 235 volunteers to read for one hour each week. Serving five schools in our county, it will require that number to make it work and help the identified children.

• More than 5,200 volunteer hours will be given to SMART during this school year. More than 37,000 volunteer hours have been given to the program to date.

• Because each child in the program is given two books per month to keep, SMART will give 2,976 books to Clatsop County students during the school year. More than 23,000 books have been given to students in the program to date.

• More than 150 Clatsop County businesses, organizations and individuals have contributed to SMART to help with the cost of purchasing books and coordinating the program. They know the need for this program continues.

• The average cost of operating the SMART program during this school year will be approximately $12,500 per school, or $250 per child. Forty to 50 percent of funding for program costs are raised from our local communities; the remainder is raised from larger statewide corporations and businesses.

• Most schools qualify for SMART by having a population of which 40 percent receive free and reduced lunches.

• There is a SMART coordinator that works at two different schools. Coordinators manage an average of 180 volunteers and 180 students each week.

• Students benefit from SMART as evidenced by documented test scores showing growth in word attack, comprehension and inference.

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