The SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) reading program is looking for local volunteers to read to elementary students in Joseph, Enterprise and Wallowa once a week.

The program was successfully launched in Wallowa County last spring in Enterprise and Joseph grade schools, and is being expanded to Wallowa this fall.

"We just had it three months, and in that time we saw increases in reading ability and attention span," said Gretchen Piper, SMART coordinator in Enterprise. "All the feedback was really good from the volunteers and from the students."

The first training session for volunteers is scheduled as a brown bag lunch session from noon to 1 p.m. at the Community Connection center in Enterprise on Thursday, Oct. 17. It is not absolutely required for those who went through the training last spring, but is recommended. If someone is unable to committ to reading for one hour once a week, substitute volunteers are also needed.

New volunteers who are unable to attend the Oct. 17 session are asked to contact one of the three coordinators for an alternate training time: Piper in Enterprise, 426-6428; Marlys Watson in Joseph, 432-0166; or Pam Steele in Wallowa, 886-2061.

The SMART reading year is scheduled to start the week of Oct. 21.

Piper says that SMART hopes to reach 25 percent of the students in grades K-3rd grade, with 30 students expected to participate in Enterprise and 20 each in Joseph and Wallowa.

SMART was originally started in 1992 in eight Oregon schools by the Oregon Children's Foundation to address two concerns: literacy and volunteers. Children were coming to school in some cases two years behind in reading ability, and Oregon's high school drop out rate was as high as 27 percent in some districts. At the same time, the number of volunteeers involved in the schools was dwindling.

In the SMART program, volunteers come into the schools for one hour a week and read a half hour each to and with two children. Each child gets to take home two free books of their choice, provided by SMART, each month.

The goals of SMART are to create enthusiastic readers who read at or above grade level when they leave elementary school; to increase the number of students graduating from high school and increase literacy in the community and the work force; and to encourage communities to help their children by becoming SMART volunteers.

According to Piper, in addition to improvement in reading ability, one of the side benefits of the SMART program is the meaningful adult/child interaction that builds self-esteem and enthusiasm for reading.

For more information about the SMART program, contact one of the coordinators listed above.

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