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‘Road to Success' helping to improve Utah students' reading skills



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Several hundred students celebrated Read Across America Day this week in several hundred of those "Cat in the Hat" hats that are Dr. Seuss's trademark.

The National Education Association hopes students and their parents will realize reading together makes such a difference. That is evident in several reading success stories right here in Utah.

Newman Elementary School's librarian first noticed signs of change. "I see a lot of kids that I've never seen in the library before coming in. I have kids that come daily to check out new books so they can read," Koriann Grimshaw said.

But change was obvious when their reading proficiency scores jumped more than 7 percent overall over last year, and more than 12 percent among Hispanic students.

"That's a huge deal to make that much progress," said Newman Elementary Principal Craig Ruesch.

At Edison Elementary School they too were thrilled to report reading scores jumped nearly 8 percent. "It's huge. It's a huge deal," said teacher Melissa Jinaraj.

Both schools are among 220 in Utah that now take part in the Ken Garff Road to Success program. Several companies, including KSL, support events that motivate students to read, help track their minutes and offer incentives, like the bikes Wal-Mart donates to every school.

Other companies offer services like tutoring. "These kids are our future. And if we can get out there and volunteer our time and help these kids and improve their opportunities, it's a great way to give back," said Tony Grilz, with American Family Insurance.

The Road to Success isn't the only thing boosting reading scores at dozens of schools in the valley, but even the State Office of Education found it's more than a coincidence.

The state surveyed 50 schools involved in Road to Success and 50 schools that weren't and found the impact on reading scores is statistically significant. Not surprising, teachers say, with testimonials like this:

"Since I learned how interesting books are, my reading's changed a lot. I read at home more than I used to, and I also read newspapers," student Hanin Sheikh said.

On top of the test scores, educators appreciate the message this program sends to schools. "It lets our kids know that the community is watching for them and making a point to say that reading is important," said Dan Bergman, assistant principal at Edison Elementary.

"This literacy program, reading 20 minutes a day, five days a week, is so simple. Yet it's so effective," said Rick Folkerson, with the Ken Garff Road to Success program.

For parents the message is: The reading you're doing at home with your kids really is boosting their performance.

E-mail: dwimmer@ksl.com

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Nadine Wimmer

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