As part of SMART’s 20th anniversary efforts in 2011-2012, we launched a story collection campaign to invite individuals – volunteers, educators, parents, former SMART students – to share about their experiences with SMART. We received a great response and gathered more than 100 fabulous stories about the many ways in which SMART is improving lives, big and small. Enjoy!
Karin Michaelson, Benton County
I have been seeking a position in my field of study since December 2009. Being rejected hundreds of times is disheartening to say the least, and it has taken me over two years to move forward, however, Viktor E. Frankl stated, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Once I changed my attitude and shifted my perspective, I found SMART! I am working with intelligent people who love books! What a dream come true! No matter, the lack of monetary gain, it’s the pleasure of working with kind and loving people who have helped me regain my confidence and sense of pride.
Working with Nancy, Claire and Becky with SMART at Lincoln School in Corvallis, gives me pure joy. The children that I see reading and being read to, give me hope for their future and mine.
Thank-you SMART, for giving me a place where I feel valued as a volunteer, and a contributor once again to society.
Amy Daniel, Lane County
In the 1990′s, my beloved grandmother Elizabeth Taylor (not the one of Hollywood fame) was a SMART volunteer in Eugene. That was one of the biggest highlights of her last remaining years. She was a retired school teacher so I think that in a small way, it brought her back to what she loved most about teaching which was connecting with and inspiring kids.
She looked forward every week to reading with “her kids.” She was so proud of them – proud of the progress they made. She even displayed photos of a couple of “her kids” in her living room. She loved sharing stories about “her kids” with me. She would save little trinkets such as stickers and pencils and bookmarks as little rewards to give them each week.
I know that SMART is all about the kids but truthfully, I could see firsthand how SMART is also all about those who generously volunteer their time. I’m quite certain that my grandmother got as much out of her time with the kids as they did.
Somewhere out there I like to think that there are a few kids, now probably in their 20′s, who are good readers with a love of books because my grandmother took the time to simply sit down and read with them. I hope they remember my beautiful, gray-haired grandmother and the moments they shared together. I know she did.
I have 2 stories:
1st story is from this week first week back and SMART. Meeting my kindergarden boy, we picked a book to read and I was reading and every word he would make the sound to the beginning letter of the word I was saying. I was thinking “wow, this kid is really into this, loving the alphabet…” Then when I closed the book in his “outside voice” says “that was boring” and every adult in the room was laughing, it was awesome!
My other story is two years ago I had a little girl I was reading to. Then one day I came and she wasn’t in SMART anymore because she needed more than SMART could offer. I was bummed we were never told and able to say “goodbye.” Fast forward to last year – I was at SMART at the beginning of the year and guess who comes in the room? She runs across the room and gives me a huge hug it was wonderful. She wasn’t who I was reading to but it still touched my heart!
Duncan C. Smith, Washington County
My SMART experience started in the late fall of 1994 at Applegate Elementary School in Portland on a tour sponsored by the Education Committee of the Portland City Club. The principal, Michelann Ortloff, gave such an impressive talk about the transformation of this school that I asked how I could get involved as a volunteer. Michelann introduced me to the SMART coordinator and my first student, a young kindergartner named Ashley. I am now entering my 18th year, and every year the students (often repeats from the prior year, create a very special experience, more about the relationship than the actual reading. Most years I have committed to 1 ½ or 2 hours in order to read with more students from different grade levels. So far, I have volunteered at four different schools, three in Portland and one in Beaverton, where we live: Applegate (closed in 2004), James John (2004-2008), Sitton (2008-09), and McKinley in Beaverton (2009 to the present). I talked my wife Jean into joining me at James John in 2007, and we have volunteered together ever since. It has been a wonderful experience.
Melinda LeRoy, Washington County
I am a new SMART volunteer. The second time I met my student, she asked me if I was going to see her every Thursday morning. When I said Yes, she beamed from ear to ear. Instead of reading hesitantly, she read fluently and confidently. I was so proud of her. I just love being a SMART volunteer and think just my consistent presence will make a difference in her reading. I know she has made a difference in my life. To see a child so excited about reading is a gift. I am so glad to be part of this program.
Nova Moisa, Washington County
This is my 12th year as a SMART volunteer. I’m embarrassed to admit that I originally started volunteering for completely selfish reasons – to get out of work as my employer paid for us to volunteer during the work day. I quickly realized that I was gaining so much by helping my two kids and became addicted to volunteering with SMART.
Over the years, I’ve had a wide variety of children as I’ve volunteered at four different schools. I’ve had the extremely shy, hyper active, short-attention span, advanced readers and ESL students. I’ve had my favorite and not-so favorite kids. However, every year I’ve experienced seeing how much joy each children eventually get out of reading or learning a new skill such as reading with emphasis, I’m reminded how great this program is.
I’ll never forget a 2nd grader who seemed to be a bit of a bully to other kids, who consistently ran ahead to the SMART room and hid from me. He always wanted me to read to him and wasn’t interested in picking out his own books. As he gained more confidence and read more and more indiviual words he eventually chose a Bob book. As he neared the end of the book, I could see his excitement grow. When he finished the story, he stood up with the book in his hand and shouted to the entire room, “I read the entire book by myself!”
As a person who has chosen not to have children, this is has been a great way for me to be connected to my community.
Dianne Zarder, Coos County
A 2nd grader was struggling with reading, and I chose the book Giraffes Can’t Dance to read with her. In this wonderful book with terrific rhythms and artwork, a young giraffe wants to dance but his mother tells him that giraffes can’t dance. I asked the girl to read to me and I would help, and soon realized that she did better when we pointed together to the next word to read. She was getting better and better while I watched, so I commented about how she was remembering words she had learned earlier in the book, and reading almost a whole sentence all by herself. All of a sudden she said “My mother said I can’t read, but I can read now because of SMART.”
I was introduced to Christian, a first grader, early in October about six years ago. He was a shy little guy with a look of neglect and he did not respond to my cheerful welcome to SMART.
In the weeks ahead, I tried every approach that had worked so well in the past, but Christian showed little interest in those wonderful books. Progress was slow.
It was early in February when he picked up Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel. There was a spark of interest , and he grew to simply love those stories. We laughed about their amusing adventures, and we talked about what was funny, sad, scary or happy. We played games: “Christian, how many times can you find the word Frog in this story?” “Seven”,cries Christian triumphantly. After we had enjoyed all four books in the series, Christian began to choose other books.
Finally, it was the last day of SMART for the year. Of course, we chose to read a Frog and Toad book. I asked Christian if he had a friend like Frog or Toad,someone to play with, someone to help him, someone he realy liked. He paused for a moment and then answered “yes”. “What’s your friend’s name?” I asked. “It’s you”. he said. Holding back tears, I assured him that he was my very dear friend,too. We said our goodbyes hoping we would be reading together again in the fall.
Christian did not return. I hope that wherever he is he still remembers our happy times sharing books. As for me, in my heart we will always be Frog and Together.
Marilee Woodrow, Lane County
Several years ago, I started with one young reader when she was in a blended classroom of 1st and 2nd grade students. She struggled to recognize and sound out even the simplest of words. That whole first year, she struggled and tried so hard. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to – she loved the books and could relate every story detail back to me. She was just struggling to make any reading progress. The next year, she was better, but still having a really rough time. We continued reading at her comfort level with my throwing in challenges to encourage and advance any progress. Often we would trade reading pages in a book. In March of her 3rd grade year, she returned from the SMART book table with several books. She picked the first one, opened it and started reading – and read the entire book. That was it! She read to me the rest of the year! The light bulb had turned on! What fun we had the rest of the SMART year! (After that year when we saw each other in the halls, or her classroom, we exchanged a smile, a wink, a wave, and an occasional hug. We even shared lunch one day in the cafeteria – after she tapped on the SMART room window one day and asked if I would have lunch with her. She caught me up on all her book reading!)
I’ve been a volunteer with SMART in Lane County for 10 years. Four years ago I became one of a three-member Coordinating team at Riverbend Elementary School. And I’m proud to be a member of the local Leadership Chapter. In all the years I’ve been involved, I have consistently observed that SMART’s community of volunteers is a proven success, co-efficient for each young reader’s life success formula. The community benefits don’t stop there. SMART’s successful mission radiates out, not only to the daily associations of the volunteers themselves: friends, family, work associates and social networks, but also from our SMART kids. The result is a sustaining process of teamwork where each part can grow and benefit from being a part of the whole, but, too, where the whole, that of improving community literacy, has an even greater impact.
One of my SMART kids said “When I read a book, I like to climb inside it and pretend I’m one of the characters – I love to read!” Another boy excitedly remarked “My family speaks Spanish, but they don’t read me Spanish at home. I want to learn how to read it!” as we recorded the title 1001 First Words in Spanish as his Give Away Take Home Book. He was really looking forward to sharing that book at home with his parents.
This is what SMART is – and what it achieves. Like a pebble dropping into a puddle of water, the ripples of success spread far and wide.
Pat Ehm, Lane County
I have been a volunteer reader in the SMART program for 10 years. I was reading at Fairfield Elementary school for seven years, and the last three years at Cesar Chavez. I enjoy the one-on-one time with each child. It’s rewarding seeing their reading skills improve as the year progresses. It is also fun to see their excitement when they get to pick a book every two weeks and take it home. One boy I read with couldn’t believe he could keep the book he chose. The SMART program is well worth our time as volunteers.