WAIHEE - Facing the loss of state funding, supporters of Read Aloud America are speaking out against cutbacks in Hawaii.
"It's kind of sad if they cut this," said Baldwin High School junior Kylee Santos, a new program volunteer and member of her campus's Future Teachers of America project. "The kids really enjoy this, and I do too," she said.
At 16 years old, Santos said she doesn't read much for enjoyment but in just two sessions of volunteering for Read Aloud America, she's giving reading a second chance.
Tim Shim, parent presenter-trainer for Read Aloud America, asks trivia questions of students last week at Waihee Elementary School. The Read Aloud America program is aimed at improving literacy, and it is threatened by state budget cuts. Supporters are encouraging people to write to state lawmakers to encourage them to maintain the program.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Volunteer Bob Zahl reads the book “Henry’s Freedom Box” last week to Waihee Elementary School 3rd-graders.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
"I wish I had this when I was younger," she said during a break last week at a Read Aloud Program at Waihee Elementary School. "I think it would have had me read more."
Single mom Sheri Purdy said her youngest of five children - 4th-grader Tobi Purdy - already reads quite a bit, but coming to the Read Aloud Program at Waihee school, only makes the activity that much more fun.
"It's not just about reading. It's building the spirit. It's keeping kids excited about learning," Purdy said. "Everybody can read individually, but it's good to see others doing it. It's like an exchange of encouragement. It's encouraging us to be involved with our kids' education."
The Read Aloud Program in Hawaii, which it says is the state's largest family literacy program, stands to lose 95 percent of its funding, or $1.4 million, because of proposed state budget cuts. Cutbacks are a result of the state Department of Human Services' decision to cut $84 million from 41 programs statewide.
The cuts will help trim a $116 million department budget deficit and will take effect over the next two years and three months.
For the next month or so, reading program supporters said they're going to do what they can to persuade government officials to reconsider scaling back funding. Together, hundreds of Maui families and others throughout the state are launching a telephone and letter-writing campaign to state lawmakers to persuade them to call on Gov. Neil Abercrombie's administration and get state Human Services Department officials to make concessions.
"If we flood their mailboxes, they'll listen," said Iao Intermediate School math teacher Tim Shim, who served as emcee and adult reader at the most recent Waihee school program session. With three children under the age of 5, Shim said that using the Read Aloud techniques has made a "world of difference" in his home.
"We used to have the TV on all the time even if we weren't watching," he said. That has changed, and Shim has become a Read Aloud speaker who encourages parents to turn off television from Tuesdays through Thursdays and start reading to their children.
"It's not easy, but it is life changing, and for the better," he said.
Read Aloud America was founded in 1999 by Oahu businessman Jed Gaines, who brought the program to Maui a few years ago at Kihei Elementary. The program has since been in every Maui school except for Kula Elementary and Hana High and Elementary schools.
This spring semester there are four Maui schools - Waihee, Makawao, Haiku and Pomaikai elementary in Kahului - with Read Aloud programs. Together, they've brought in as many as 2,300 adults and children in just the first of a six-session spring schedule.
Last week, Waihee school drew about 500 children, guardians, volunteers and educators for one night of reading out loud and a free pizza dinner.
Waihee Read Aloud coordinator Michele Leong and others said they believe that Thursday night's attendance might have been higher, but rainy weather kept many families away.
"I think it's a great program for our community," Leong said.
Waihee school serves a high number of Native Hawaiian families with parents who have reported in initial program evaluations that there is a need for tips on how to read out loud and how to best encourage children to read at home.
"A lot of parents want to, but they don't know how to and this program has helped them. It's made them turn off the TV and come together as a family," Leong said.
First-grade teacher Denise Lepson said that after only two sessions of Read Aloud, she's seen a marked difference in her students' approach to reading.
"Certainly they're talking more about it," she said. When the program is mentioned, "they know you're talking about reading and how fun it can be."
Program volunteer coordinator and Waihee 2nd-grade teacher Jackie Mukai said the entire Waihee school staff, including its custodians and cafeteria workers, are behind the Read Aloud Program.
"We really believe in literacy and the importance of encouraging families to read," Mukai said.
Waihee staff members support the Read Aloud Program by volunteering to help with reading, monitoring program sessions and even serving the pizza dinner.
"People will do whatever is needed," Mukai said.
Even with the budget cutbacks, Read Aloud America has committed to finishing all sessions at its current group of schools. The program also accepts personal contributions to keep its programs intact for fall 2011.
To help, go online to www.readaloudamerica.org or write checks to Read Aloud America. The program's address is 115 E. Lipoa St., Suite 101, Kihei 96753. All donations are fully tax deductible.
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.