Blazen Calma, a fifth-grader, intently reads the book "The Tiger Rising" as it is read aloud in a break-out session during the Read Aloud Program at Pauoa Elementary School last week.

The pleasure and power of reading

Students and even adults discover
the joy of books through RAP

Families streamed into the Pauoa Elementary School cafeteria to the sweet strains of Bruddah Iz singing "Take Me Home, Country Road." By 6 p.m., the place was packed.


Jed Gaines: The former businessman launched the Read Aloud Program in 1999

Three Rings to Reading

Refrain from Television
» Keep the television off from Monday through Thursday to free up time for family interaction and reading.
Role Model
» Act as a role model by reading books, newspapers, magazines and job materials.
Read Aloud
» Read aloud to your child for 20 minutes, several days a week. This shows you value reading and boosts your child's vocabulary and comprehension.

Read Aloud Tips

» Find a time to read when you and your child can relax.
» Get comfortable.
» Read the book or story yourself before reading it to your child.
» You don't have to be a great reader, just read from the heart.
» Make it fun. It's not a lesson.
» If your child doesn't like a book, try another.
» Talk about the stories with your child.
» Encourage your children to look at books on their own.
» Go to the library regularly with your children.

To participate

RAP is headed to these schools next semester:
» Mililani Uka Elementary
» Kipapa Elementary
» Palolo Elementary
For more information, call 531-1985 or visit www.readaloudamerica.org.

Under the glare of fluorescent lights, Pua Amaral and her grandsons took seats up front on a hard bench, not wanting to miss a moment. The lure? The joy of hearing a book read aloud.

"Nobody ever read to me, even when we were little," explained Amaral, gray tinging the gentle wave of her hair. "It feels so good, just listening. This is my special time to have someone else read to me for a change."

Her grandson, 8-year-old Kiaipono, was just as eager. He used to hate reading, but the Read Aloud Program, better known as RAP, has turned that around, she said.

The Amarals and 300 neighbors who flocked to Pauoa Elementary last week are the latest in a line of tens of thousands who have taken part in this made-in-Hawaii family literacy program. Since its launch at Barbers Point Elementary in 1999, RAP has visited 41 public schools across the state. At Waipahu Elementary last month, the crowd reached a new high of 768.

The formula is simple, but it seems to work. Come enjoy the pleasure -- and power -- of reading aloud, then take the habit back home. No quizzes, no phonics, no book reports. Just a pep rally for reading.

The mastermind behind the program is Jed Gaines, a former businessman who now devotes his life to this mission, a calling he came to the hard way. A native New Yorker, Gaines grew up in a household with three televisions and little conversation at the dinner table. Severely dyslexic, he struggled to read.

When Gaines became a parent himself in 1984, he read to his son from birth, in hopes of giving him a leg up. He followed his children into their classrooms, surprising their teachers with his eagerness to read aloud. In 1995 he founded Read Aloud America, and later teamed up with English teacher Jim Harstad and children's author Marion Coste to create the Read Aloud Program.

Gaines draws on his marketing background to build energy for the program. He and his colleagues visit schools ahead of time to get kids and teachers jazzed. They give away door prizes, books and pizza as incentives in the evenings. But the soul of the program is reading, and that is what seems to stick with people.

Parent surveys are overwhelmingly positive. More than 80 percent of participants said their children chose to read more as a result of RAP. Seventy percent of families in RAP said they were watching less television. Sixty percent of parents reported reading aloud to their children at least three times a week.

"It's a tremendous feeling to see lives change and families brought together," Gaines said Wednesday. "Fifty percent of our audience are turning off the TV during the week. That's huge -- I can't tell you how big of an attitude change that is, and how much that opens up communication among the family."

A child will learn the mechanics of reading at school, he said. The pleasure of hearing the written word must start at home, where children can just relax and enjoy the story.

"That's what creates lifetime readers instead of school-time readers," he said. "A teacher is not a magician."

With a miniature microphone strapped to his head, Gaines kicked off the evening at Pauoa by working the crowd, tossing out questions, quickly followed by Frisbees that he sent soaring across the room to eager hands. It was the last of the six sessions at the school, and the community clearly had grasped the message.

The crowd went wild as Jed Gaines, left, led a rally last week during the Read Aloud Program at Pauoa Elementary School. Gaines asked questions about books and reading and rewarded correct answers with prizes.

"What does TTTT stand for?" asked Gaines, striding down an aisle through a sea of hands reaching toward him, volunteering the answer.

"Turn off Television Through Thursday!" called out a little boy, scoring a Frisbee.

"What's the best deal in town?" Gaines continued.

"The library!" answered a girl, landing a beach ball.

Teri and Eric Kashiwamura, whose children attend Pauoa School, said the program has helped break the television habit in their household. They now make weekly trips to the library with the kids and read to them nightly. Six-year-old Matthew's reading comprehension and attention span have climbed. And their 8-year-old daughter, Bri'el, said she's traded in "the easy Pokemon books" for the likes of Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events."

"I think it's great," said Eric Kashiwamura. "Both my kids were hooked on TV a little bit too much. Without this program, I wouldn't have realized that. They don't need the TV." His wife added that her husband, too, has discovered he doesn't need the TV any more to relax after work.

At RAP, Amaral learned quickly that her approach to her grandson's reading had backfired. She used to think he was choosing books that were too easy, and the two of them would wind up "arguing and arguing." Since she started letting him choose the books, she has seen a transformation.

"This is way better," she said. "Now he'll read anything to do with sports and animals. He tries to challenge himself on the words now, whereas before he wouldn't even try."

Reading aloud to kids of all ages helps them build vocabulary and comprehension because "your listening level is two to five grades higher than your reading level," Gaines said.

At RAP sessions, children head off to classrooms, sorted by age level, to be read to by volunteers, while Gaines holds court in the cafeteria, reading to the adults and teenagers. He chooses funny books with a message like "Always Wear Clean Underwear" or classics such as "Tuesdays with Morrie."

In the back of the Pauoa cafeteria sat Nancy King Holt, a grant specialist for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, who helped bring the program to the school by providing a grant.

"I have never seen parents, adults, sit so enraptured," she said with a touch of awe in her voice. "I myself am an avid reader. To see people get the hunger for that is just wonderful."

Host schools pay a quarter of the $27,000-per-semester fee for the program. The rest is covered by corporate sponsorships and donations.

"Every parent wants what's best for their child, but many need some help understanding what that is," said Dan Bent, chairman of the board of Read Aloud America and a volunteer reader. "The program shows them the way to building their family and community and love for learning."



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