Reading is FUNdamental
When my kids were small, I was very active in the Home and School club, like the PTA without the national clout behind it. This school was one where white faces were very much in the minority, where my two enrolled in Spanish as a Second Language by just walking into the classroom. Which is, I will say, a very effective way of teaching a kid how to be a citizen of the world.
This being a rural, agricultural area, a lot of those Spanish-speaking kids were the children of farmworkers, and a lot of them were poor. Many of them would be the first generation of their families to graduate from middle school, much less high school. A fair percentage of the students had parents who couldnâ€™t read, in any language.
Into this setting comes the RIF program. Because so many of our kids were low income, three times a year, Reading is Fundamental would truck in masses of books, and let each and every student in the school choose one to take home. To keep. For their very own.
My two, of course, were a bit blasÃ© about the idea, since by the time they entered school their rooms had groaning bookcases of their own. It was difficult to get across to them that some of their classmates not only had no bookcases, they had no books. None. Until RIF came to town.
I loved to volunteer for RIF days, just to watch the kids. We would start the day by setting up the tables in the cafeteria, laying out the (mostly) cheap paperbacks by reading level, debating each time about the placement of Spanish language books: should we put all of those together, or mix them in with the others? Some years we did it one way, some the other, it didnâ€™t seem to matter much. And then we would stand back, and the teachers would begin bringing their classes.
The older kids, of course, were old hands at this, and made right for the thick books, wanting as much heft as they could get. Dictionaries were especially popular, even though some of us RIF moms (very few dads volunteered for RIF days) would gently ask if they wouldnâ€™t rather have a story book. Each student would be given fifteen minutes or so to choose one book, then would bring it to us and we would either have them write their name, or write it for them, so as to save arguments in the classroom later.
And off they would go, high as kites and clutching their books to their chests. To take home. To read on their own, or to their parents.
It was the younger kids who would make a hardened volunteer mom get a little choked up. Kindergarten and first graders would be ushered in, rather confused, and stand staring at these objects strewn around, nose-height to them. The teacher would explain, usually in two languages. The studentsâ€™ eyes would get big, and they would look at each other doubtfully. Books sure, they understood books in the classroom or even in the library, but mine? For me? To carry home? To put my NAME in?
Now, you know thereâ€™s going to be a point to this post, donâ€™t you? Yes. And here it is: The federal budget proposed by President Bush for 2009 will eliminate RIF. Sixteen million books wonâ€™t go to low-income kids. Sixteen million times, a ten year-old boy wonâ€™t gleefully snatch up a two inch-thick paperback Spanish-English dictionary as the biggest book on the table. Sixteen million times, his six year-old sister wonâ€™t fall in love with Steven Kelloggâ€™s silly drawings, and read them over and over. Sixteen million times, a moment of joy that opens a door wonâ€™t happen.
Please go to the RIF page and take a couple minutes to contribute an email request to Congress, or print their form to write a paper letter of your own. RIF is important, to five million of the kids who need it most. It doesnâ€™t cost much, when it comes to Federal programs, and it makes a huge difference.
For me, please? And of course, for them.
The address is