“Not in a house. Not with a mouse.” A first grade boy was going through Dr. Seuss’s story “Green Eggs and Ham.” He flipped the pages as if he had done this a number of times. “I do not like them Sam, I am.” I started to wonder why he was in the program, yet every few pages, I noticed he was uttering passages from different pages. Even though I could see that he was saying passages from his memory, I was impressed by his desire to read. The SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) program provides an environment that gives children the consistent support they need to learn how to read.
During my ten years as a SMART volunteer, other members of my family have also become involved as volunteers. First, my daughter decided to be a SMART volunteer at an elementary school near her college. Soon, my father-in-law followed. Finally, when a SMART program started at a nearby elementary school, my wife also joined the program. The SMART experience can be contagious.
When the program ends in May each year, I feel a relief as well as a wish for the children. Was I able to help them change from a life long struggle with reading or help them succeed in their academic life? One day, by happenstance, I met a child two years after he was in the program at the same school. Recognizing how much progress he made since I worked with him, I wondered if I was a part of the support that helped him succeed.
Unlike with my job at Intel, one does not always see visible progress in children through the years. It can be discouraging even when the teachers give us feedback that they see improvements in students’ reading abilities. On the other hand, there were magical moments when my SMART readers started to read books as if something clicked. Those are some of the moments that make me come back year after year to volunteer.