Benefits Of Reading Can Be Enjoyed Throughout A Lifetime
By Dr. David Stewart

March 28, 2005

As one of the teachers of the gifted students in Boone County, Denise Workman tries to instill in her students that reading is a pastime that they can always enjoy. Last year, she was amazed at a response she received when she sent home a letter to the parents of her students regarding a reading assignment. She wanted to inform them what they would be reading and, if they wanted to feel free and join them.  

The response was overwhelming. Parents wrote and thanked her for introducing and, for some, reintroducing the classic Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men into their homes. Parents and students were reading together and continued with more Steinbeck’s works during the summer.  

Denise’s story is a prime example of “Reading for All,” the West Virginia Board of Education (WVBOE) reading initiative launched nearly six years ago. She brought reading into the homes and parents became involved with their children’s assignments. For some, she reminded them of the joy of reading.  

The WVBOE recognized a need for professional development in the area of reading and, as a result, it launched “Reading for All,” which focuses on three phases: Learn to Read for grades kindergarten through four; Read to Learn for grades five through 12; and Read to Succeed which continues through adulthood.  

The WVBOE also created the West Virginia Reading Academy. The Reading Academy has provided intensive professional development in reading to K-3 principals and educators for more than five years. During those five years, approximately 650 educators representing 120 schools participated in the Academy.  

One year later, the West Virginia Department of Education Reading Cadre was formed. Within a few months, this group of dedicated teachers delivered reading professional development to Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs), counties and schools throughout West Virginia. The training was tailored to the reading needs of the particular county or school served. The Cadre has received recognition and accolades from venues including other states, the United States Department of Education and The International Reading Association.  

Last year 21 counties were awarded Reading First grants. These with eight additional anticipated counties will share more than $6 million dollars per year for the next three years. The United States Department of Education announced in 2002 that West Virginia would receive approximately $43.8 million over the next six years to administer the Reading First program.  

Earlier this month the third annual West Virginia Reading Research Symposium was held, which sparked our educators’ minds with new research on effectively teaching our children to learn to read. The symposium is designed to provide three days of scientific research on reading education to educators from across West Virginia.  

This dedication and hard work has definitely reaped positive results National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores revealed our fourth graders have remained above the national average for the second year in a row. It was delightful to learn that Wayne Elementary received the 2003 Exemplary Reading Program Award from the International Reading Association and the West Virginia Reading Association. More recently, West Virginia was one of only two states in the nation to receive the prestigious International Reading Association’s Five Star Policy Award by demonstrating that it guarantees quality education and student achievement by implementing excellent reading policies, programs and initiatives.  

With all of these accolades and recognitions, there is still work to do. Too many children are still entering public school without the stimulation and experiences they need to be academically successful. Attention must focus on these early grades and cultivate environments that promote language and learning.  

There is no challenge more critical or more important to the success of West Virginia students and ultimately the success of this country than the successful teaching of reading.  

Everyone must do his/her part to help our students achieve. The West Virginia Board of Education will continue to do its part by maintaining its focus on reading. Parents can do their part by supporting reading instruction at home and making reading a part of every day.  

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