May 15, 2005 – "Together We Read, Together We Succeed" was the theme of the second annual Reading Campaign Conference, held Saturday on the St. Croix campus of the University of the Virgin Islands.
The Reading Campaign promotes reading as an essential skill to ensure success in life. The organization's ultimate goal is to create a community of readers throughout the territory.
Parents, teachers and literacy facilitators gathered at the UVI cafetorium to talk about initiatives under way to improve reading in the Virgin Islands. They include the implementation of a research-based reading series, reading intervention programs, strengthening of early literacy programs and annual district literacy events.
Among the topics addresses in workshops were "The Gifted Child," "Dyslexia," "School-Children Partnership to Improve Children's Reading Skills," "Strategies for Working with Disabled Students," "Experiencing Success with Children with Special Needs," "The Special Education Process," "Learning Isn't Just for School," "Working with Children Who Have Been Abused" and "Internet Resources."
Rita Howard, assistant commissioner of Education, the guest speaker, outlined challenges facing the territory in ensuring that every child can read and complying with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. "Reading is a basic and fundamental tool," she said. "It is an increasing treasure as society stresses the demands for this technological age."
Howard urged parents to get a copy of the federal legislation to familiarize themselves with the standards outlined for school districts. (It can be downloaded from the U.S. Department of Education Web site.)
Statistics indicate that one in five children will show a reading disability, Howard said. But 88 percent of children with difficulty reading in the first grade are passed on to the second and third grade, and if no intervention is made, that reading disability will continue through high school. "When they get further behind each year, it becomes impossible to catch up to their current grade level," she said.
According to Howard, "The home must place the value on reading. Though we want to maintain our cultural roots, we must place things in balance so that it can work along with what is being learned in schools."
Sumaya Harrison, a teacher at the Islamic-based Iqra School, had this response: "The problem that I see is there is no reading at home. Public libraries should be more accessible to families. Iqra means in Arabic 'in the name of the Lord, you shall read.'"
A library "is a place where parents who can't afford books can teach and entertain their children," Harrison said. "How could they close on evenings and weekends?"
She said that before moving to the Virgin Islands, she lived in Wisconsin, where education and literacy were the focus in all institutions from preschool to college. The mother of five, ages 2 to 12, said she would take her children to the library every week to select four books of their choice.
"We have to get libraries open for families to read," Harrison said.
According to the V.I. Public Libraries Web site, these are the hours they keep:
Elaine Ione Sprauve (Cruz Bay) – Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Enid M. Baa (Charlotte Amalie) – Adult area Monday and Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Children's Room Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Florence Williams (Christiansted) – Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Athalie Petersen (Frederiksted) – hours are not posted.
Sunny Isle Kiosk hours are not posted.
More than 20 teacher-parents listened attentively as Chenzira Kahina of the V.I. Homeschooling and Natural Educators Association told how home schooling can offer an alternative approach to different learning aptitudes.
In a workshop on "Resources Available for Home Schoolers," Kahina provided an extensive list of Web sites and publications that she said can supplement or replace traditional learning environments. A former public and private school educator, Kahina said every mother can teach with the help of a support network. She said that as the mother of seven children, now ranging from preschool to college age, she sought options for her children.
The homeschooling association aims to create experiences and life-long learning opportunities that foster a respect for the environment. Kahina said those educational experiences can offer cognitive, scientific, practical, artistic and productive expressions of growth and development.
Marlene Mercer, a parent, traveled from the British Virgin Islands to attend the conference in the hope of finding new ways to address her 14-year-old son's reading deficiency. She was joined by her sister Jacqueline Smith, a teacher at Leonora Delville Primary School in Long Bay, Tortola.
Mercer said she came away with resources she could try and that she was very interested in the home-schooling approach. But she said she would use it to supplement her sons at-school learning because she is a working mother.
"At least you have that in America," she said of home schooling. "We don't have it in Tortola."
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