Thursday, March 02, 2006

Reading Thursday: The Saint

Retired Air Force veteran Bob Moore really wants to do something to help kids learn to read. He's putting his money where his heart is:
Bob Moore prefers to be incognito. Many people don't even know his name. At his request they just call him Grumpy, though it's a bit of a misnomer. The Sandy resident is usually affable, but there is one thing that always makes him cranky.

"Everybody knows how sick the schools are," Moore said, "but nobody does anything about it."

Retired from the Air Force, Moore wasn't sure how to spend his generous disability check each month. He did know, however, that to be successful kids need to read at home. And he knew that students in the low-income, Title I schools across the state didn't get that chance.

"Go to a school and ask in a second-grade class how many of them have books at home," Moore said. "In a class of 20, maybe two or three do."

To Moore, who is also a retired college teacher, that was not acceptable. So, three years ago he started a program called "Read Moore Books." Each year, Moore approaches the second- and third-grade teachers in several of the 144 Title I schools in Utah. Teachers make a list of books they would like to have in the classroom, and Moore goes out and buys them.

"The books go straight to the schools and the bill comes to me. Isn't that simple?" he said. "I'm not a corporation. I'm not a fund or whatever you want to call it. I am just myself." Moore, who accepts no donations, said he spends about $3,000 a month on books for schools.

There are a few rules to Moore's otherwise simple system. For one thing, books teachers request are for students to take home. They cannot be textbooks or other in-class materials.

"I don't want them to read books about insects or dinosaurs," he said. "I want them to read for fun."

Reading for fun helps kids love reading, said Ellen Koucas, who teaches second grade at Lincoln Elementary School. She tries to choose books for her class that are both entertaining and informative. She also chooses books at a variety of levels, she said.

"They enjoy it more when it's at a level where they're successful," she said.

As per Moore's rules, students also keep a reading log, which includes the date, title and author of the book, and how many minutes they spend reading each night, signed by each student's parent. The log, said Koucas, helps teachers track students' reading level and interest level.

Given the chance, Moore said, any child can learn to love reading. When he visits schools and classrooms, Moore looks at students' reading logs. Many of them take a new book home every night and finish it before school the next day.

"You never saw kids so happy in your life as to have books at home to read," Moore said. "And you know what that does? It makes you feel happy. It really does."

Having books for children to take home makes teachers and administrators happy as well. Children who read at home, said Lincoln Elementary School Principal Shannon Andersen, do better in the classroom - and in life.

"When we're able for the kids to read at home, you always see a difference," she said.

At Lincoln Elementary in the Salt Lake City School District, at 1090 Roberta Street (240 East), 90 percent of students live at or below the poverty line, 80 percent are ethnic minorities and 65 percent speak English as a second language, Anderson said. Most parents can't afford books, magazines and newspapers, but just reading in the classroom is not enough, she said.

"They've got to have an extra chance to practice," Koucas said. "Hopefully that's what we're giving them, the chance to practice the skills and strategies we teach them in class. And it's a chance to sit in their parents' lap and hug and read a book."

Not only can low-income families not afford to buy books for the home, schools often can't afford enough books for students to take home, either, said Janine Smith, principal at Parkview Elementary School, also located in the Salt Lake City School District.

"To know that there's someone out there who cares enough to give those books is a boost to our teachers and our students and our families," said Smith, who agrees reading at home is vital to every students' academic success.

"Students, really they need to be reading between 60 to 70 minutes a day," she said. "We can't provide that block of time. Reading at home and reading for fun and reading for enjoyment is very important."

Students at Parkview also keep a journal in addition to their reading logs, in which they write about what they read each night. Recounting stories, Smith said, helps students' comprehension.

But Moore has more than comprehension and growing vocabulary in mind. He wants teachers hearing from students, years later, who are in law school or working as certified mechanics, bookkeepers, even teachers.

" 'I'm a teacher.' That's the one," Moore said. " 'I'm a teacher because you gave me books to read.' Under the current situation you know what they say? 'I'm a buser; I'm pregnant; I'm unemployed.' "

Moore, who also works as a volunteer with the DARE program, isn't giving up. Last year, just before Christmas, he received a large envelope from students at Montezuma Creek Elementary School in the San Juan school district in the southeastern corner of Utah. The envelope was full of thank-you letters, and pictures of children reading books.
I think that what Mr. Moore is doing for the kids in Utah is great. How can it be otherwise? He certainly has earned our Red Apple Salute.
See this week's Carnival Of Education right here and our latest education-related posts over there.