Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Navajo Times Features Reader To Reader

Reading Opens Pathways
Chee Brossy
Navajo Times
Thursday, May 29, 2008

NAVAJO, N.M. – At a time when high school graduations become community events and underclassmen look forward to the summer vacation, actual in-class education can be a struggle.

Yet in one class at Navajo Pine High School, students are looking to take their education home for the summer – in the form of books to read without a teacher looking over their shoulder.

These books are sent to the students by Reader To Reader, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Massachusetts dedicated to providing reading materials to under-resourced schools and communities across the country.

The company currently supplies books to 400 schools across the country and has sent over 7,000 books to Navajo Pine over six years.

For the students in Navajo Pine's honor class, reading is a pathway to college and directly related to success in a career in any field.

Reader To Reader's Navajo Mentoring program is groundbreaking. And, according to Navajo Pine librarian Carla Clauschee, the program has produced groundbreaking results.

Reader To Reader has been sending boxes of books to Navajo Pine High to be used by its students since 2002, but this is the first school year that a mentorship program, exclusive to Navajo Pine, has been implemented.

Students choose books to read, such as "Flight" by Native American author Sherman Alexie, and discuss the book with an Amherst College student on an online forum.

Amherst, in Massachusetts, has long been recognized as a top school and is ranked as one of the top two liberal arts colleges in America in 2008 by U.S. News & World Report.

Amherst mentors come from varied backgrounds such as rural Alabama and Beijing, China, and read the same books as the Navajo Pine students. Students post comments on what they read, and pose questions to the reading mentors.

"The kids have delved into new vocabulary, literary mechanisms, themes, symbolism, and metaphor," Clauschee said. "They're getting into heavy duty surrealist books, too.

"And the really wonderful thing about it is that they're not required to respond – they do it on their own," she said.

Sophomore Bettine Kinlichinie has noticed a difference in her reading.

"Now I actually know how to discuss a book with others," said Kinlichinie, who lists "Kite Runner" as her favorite book. "I can express my opinion on it more now. At first I just read to read, now I understand more about what's in a book, and how to ask questions about it."

The books that students read are a step up from simple youth fiction in order to challenge their abilities, said Clauschee. She also encourages her students to reread books they might already have encountered before the mentor program.

"It doesn't matter if you've read it before," Clauschee said. "I tell them, you'll be getting into it deeper. And their insights on what they read are tremendous. It's a big jump from 'Goosebumps'."

Clauschee has seen a difference in the students are a result of the mentoring program.

"You need more support and security to make the leap from reading for work to reading for fun," she said. "To really read a book takes extra, like a one-on-one connection and support."

At first it was the Amherst mentors who took the lead on writing posts on the forum and soliciting responses from the students.

"Then something happened – the kids took over," said Clauschee.

The students logged on during spring break and at night just to interact with other readers.

"I definitely never finished a long book until I started responding (to the reading mentors) online," said Navajo Pine sophomore Kyle Clark. "Now I'm constantly finishing and starting new books."

In August, Navajo Pine students will meet their reading mentors face to face when Reader To Reader founder David Mazor visits the school with the Amherst College students.

But sharing notes on the books the read is only one aspect of the visit, said Mazor.

"The goal is also for the Navajo students to be able to ask questions on how (the Amherst students) got into college, what it's like to be in college," Mazor said. "It's also an opportunity for the college students to learn what life is like in Navajo, New Mexico, and learn from that."

Then in October the Navajo Pine students will travel to Amherst, Mass., in an all-expenses-paid trip to Amherst College.

Mazor and his organization have arranged for the students to meet with various professionals, such as scientists and authors, including Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Madeleine Blaise.

"We're hoping to give them an amazing experience," Mazor said. "It will help them understand what college life is about by coming to a college campus, and also how to use college as a springboard for careers, like famous authors and lawyers."

It seems for the students at Navajo Pine High School, reading has indeed served as a pathway to new experiences and success.

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