Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington Reading Corps Read With Me Conference
September 22, 1999
ACCESSING THE GARDEN OF LIFE
Thank you very much. And thank you so much, Dr. Trueheart for that very nice introduction, and welcome to our state of Washington. And also welcome Marjorie Connelly, Senior Vice President of Capital One. Welcome Carol Santa of International Reading Association. Later on we’ll be able to hear from our US Secretary of Education, Richard Riley. And to all of you involved in The Reading Corps, welcome! What a great day it is that we’re all able to be here.
Today is a very special day. It’s a special day because we celebrate the first anniversary of our Washington Reading Corps. And it’s a special day because we kick off our second year of expanded Reading Corps. And it’s a special day because this is an opportunity to work to make the Reading Corps even better.
The Reading Corps is dear to my heart. A couple of years ago when those first fourth grade test scores were announced the test results gave us pause. We knew we had a lot of work cut out for us.
Some friends of mine from across the state happened to be in Olympia. They support education reform and they came to hear our Administration’s education agenda. And we talked about how education reform is going to take hold in our state. We talked about how over time, with the retraining of our teachers, the new curriculum materials and new systems in place—in five or six years with all of these new developments—the students coming into the first and second grade will be properly trained in reading so that our test scores in the fourth and seventh grades in years to come will truly be ones we can be proud of.
And then one of those friends of mine stopped and said, “What about the kids who are in the system now? What about my son, Parker, who’s in the fifth grade? Five or six years from now, Parker and so many other students will be getting ready to graduate. What are we doing for those kids who are in the school system right now! Are they expendable?”
And he’s right. Improvement in five to six years just isn’t good enough. Yes, we’ve got higher standards. Yes, things are going to get better across the board, in time. But what are we doing right now for today’s struggling students? We can’t wait, and they can’t wait. And so we started the Washington Reading Corps to help struggling students who are in school right now.
We shaped the idea, we refined the budget, and we insisted that the Legislature pass our proposal for the Washington Reading Corps. And we knew that the success of the Reading Corps hinged on community involvement. And the response has been absolutely phenomenal.
I said last year that we were going to have to move heaven and earth to help our kids learn. And we have. We’ve got businesses all across the state giving their employees time off with pay so they can serve as Reading Corps tutors in your schools. That’s just phenomenal. It’s not just phenomenal, it’s great. It’s the power of citizens to get involved. And we need to keep it going.
When Capital One said they wanted to make a donation to the Washington Reading Corps, we decided that the best way to use that money was for conferences on best practices and for sharing ideas on how to really improve the Reading Corps. So thanks to Capital One, here we are. Let’s give Capital One another big round of applause.
I am so proud of what we have been able to accomplish this last year with the Washington Reading Corps. We’ve exceeded our wildest expectations. We set out to recruit 8,000 volunteers. And I know many of you didn’t like receiving the phone calls from our office, wondering how you were doing on your goals of recruiting volunteers, but we have ended up with now over 11,000 volunteers in just one year! And it’s all because businesses and citizens recognized that government couldn’t do it alone. Schools can’t do it alone. Our teachers can’t do it alone. We needed community involvement. And the results? Substantial improvement in reading skills by our Reading Corps students. Reading Corps schools improved more than non-Reading Corps schools on the recently announced fourth grade tests. Congratulations to all of you.
I don’t have any slides or PowerPoint displays to show you today. Instead I thought I’d read part of a children’s story; one that I think exemplifies the work our Reading Corps has achieved. I’m starting in the middle, here, but I think you’ll all recognize the story.
“Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words EAT ME were beautifully marked in currants. ‘Well, I’ll eat it,’ said Alice. ‘And if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door: so either way I’ll get into the garden, and I don’t care which happens!’”
Alice eats some of the cake. Nothing happens so of course she eats some more. Time passes and Alice begins to grow.
“Curiouser and curiouser!” she says. “Now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was!”
Well that’s how I feel about the work our Reading Corps is doing in the schools—by teaching our children how to read, we’re opening up our children’s minds like large telescopes. Our children can now focus on the bounty of their own potential without becoming distracted by the low self-confidence and low self-esteem that often cloud the heads of children with low reading scores.
Each child is unique, and each child will decide if the things they read will make them compact enough to fit under the door, or large enough to reach the key. It’s up to them. But it’s up to us to teach them how to read. Because by doing so we are teaching them how to access the garden of imagination and knowledge, the garden of life. And I can think of no higher calling for all of us.
So I’m here today to honor every individual and every organization involved in The Reading Corps. From the businesses donating time and money, and encouraging their employees to volunteer as tutors, to the schools embracing The Reading Corps, to the teachers and instructors at those schools, to the members of my office who designed the logo (I like that logo), to all of the volunteers and business partners who’ve monitored the success of the Reading Corps, and I’d really like to thank Sarah Rich and Hannah Lidman for their great work. I want to honor and thank Superintendent Bergeson and the staff of the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction. And I especially want to honor and thank the 11,000 volunteers who provide one-on-one tutoring, and the 330 AmeriCorps and VISTA volunteers who have made it possible. They coordinated and recruited volunteers and provided tutoring themselves. Let’s give another round of applause for those tutors, and AmeriCorps and VISTA volunteers.
I have to thank Sue Donaldson who is not only the president of the Seattle City Council but also acts as chairperson of our Washington Commission on National and Community Service. Our state of Washington has been assigned more AmeriCorps and VISTA volunteers than any other state, because people are so enamored and so pleased with what our Reading Corps program is doing. In fact, next year we stand to receive some 400 AmeriCorps and VISTA volunteers to help us.
The Reading Corps shows us what can be accomplished when citizens, businesses, parents and schools work together to achieve a common goal. And next year we’ll have even more volunteers. More community and business partnerships. And we’ll teach even more children the most basic skill of all—reading.
To prepare for today, I spread a whole bunch of pie-graphs and charts across my desk. I wanted to show you measurably how far we’ve come in this spectacular success. But I kept thinking about all of the individuals that The Reading Corps has touched.
I remember a fellow named Teddy McDaniel from Cedar Valley Elementary. And Teddy wrote a letter about how the Reading Corps changed his life. He told me that the other kids don’t make fun of him anymore because he’s a better reader now. He wrote, “School is better for me this year. And everybody is proud of me and I’m proud of myself.” Well, we’re all very proud of Teddy, too.
Many of the people in our office volunteer as Reading Corps tutors. And I remember Bill Basl of our office talking about tutoring at Lacy Elementary. Bill was tutoring a fifth grade boy who was reading at the third grade level. And every week, Bill would take this student to the library and help him select a book and then they’d sit down and read it together. One day, after a few months, Bill went in and said, “Come on! Let’s pick out a book!”
The boy said, “You don’t have to pick out books for me anymore. I’ve picked them out, and I’ve already started to read.”
And then there’s the letter I got from Kevin Chase, the Superintendent of Mabton School District.
“I wanted to let you know that Mabton had a great experience with the Reading Corps Program,” Kevin wrote. “We serviced over 200 students at 80 hours a piece. We hired a half-time volunteer coordinator through Title I funds and she, along with a VISTA volunteer, brought in 60 volunteers in our school. We only have 25 teachers. Our free and reduced lunch rate is over 90%. We are 85% Hispanic and 25% migrant. We have a 40% mobility rate. Our scores are low, but without this help, our kids would be lost.”
Well guess what? Mabton’s test scores increased by twice the state’s average this year and their test scores are in the top one-third of Reading Corps schools.
Mary Van Verst’s tutoring experience really talks about the power of the Reading Corps program. Mary was tutoring a student named Rachel who didn’t have a lot of self-confidence. Early in 1999, the tutors surveyed the children to determine their attitudes about helping other children as tutors themselves.
Rachel answered, “I don’t know, I don’t know,” or “No” to almost all of the questions. At the end of the school year, they conducted another survey. And instead of just telling Mary what answers to write down, Rachel took the piece of paper herself and wrote her name really big across the top, and answered every question herself, circling YES to all of the positive questions on the survey. Rachel had gained confidence in herself and her ability to teach another child how to read.
A few days later, Mary was tutoring Rachel in the library and a first grader walked by. Rachel pointed to the first grader and said, “I’m her reading buddy.”
That’s what all of those pie charts and graphs are about. Over 22,000 kids are better readers today because of The Reading Corps. 22,000 kids like Teddy saying, “School is better for me this year. Everybody is proud of me and I’m proud of myself.” 22,000 kids saying “You don’t have to pick out books for me anymore. I’ve picked them out, and I’ve already started reading.” 22,000 kids beaming with pride and saying, “I’m her reading buddy.”
There’s a special bond between a young reader and his or her tutor. The kids are working hard at home and in school, eager to impress their tutors. Tutors help them sound out the words and praise them when they get it right. It’s as if our tutors are acting as time-release vitamins.
Just two years ago, only 47% of our fourth graders met the state’s new tough reading standards. This year, 59% of our fourth graders have met the reading standards, and 31% partially met them. And Reading Corps schools posted stronger gains than non-Reading Corps schools.
It’s so simple, what we’re doing. And yet so mind-boggling. The Reading Corps teaches children the most basic skill of all. Reading. The foundation for all other academic success. First our children learn to read, then they read to learn. They move from “red fish, blue fish, one fish, two fish,” to Twain, to Hemingway, to Shakespeare, to Dosteovsky.
Our goal is to make our schools the best schools in the country. And there is so much more work to be done. We need to better-coordinate community and agency support in the Reading Corps and work to improve techniques to recruit, coordinate, and retain volunteer tutors. We need to better integrate Reading Corps tutoring programs with reading curriculum in schools. We need to work hard to reduce class sizes to increase student-teacher contact and improve student achievement. And we need to work hard to improve teachers’ salaries and give them the respect that our educators deserve. And most importantly, we need to encourage citizens, businesses and organizations to get involved in our schools. So please encourage your friends, your neighbors, your family members, your baby sitters, your dog sitters, your squash or racquetball partners, your pea-patch partners, everyone to support and get involved in the Reading Corps program. Because our kids are worth it, and no one is expendable.
In closing, let me remind you that our Reading Corps is already gaining Washington State a reputation as The Read To Succeed State. But we can’t let up until every child in every school receives the attention that he or she deserves. We’ve done great work. But we must be impatient and not complacent. We want to offer every child the ability to open up like the largest telescope that ever was—to dream that not so impossible dream. Because every child deserves access to that garden of imagination, that garden of knowledge, that garden of life. To all of you involved in the Reading Corps, thank you and keep up the good work.