Originally created 03/03/98

Program promotes literacy



EDGEFIELD, S.C. -- It was as if Amy Lewis awoke from a heavy slumber, rolled out of her twin bed and staggered to the school bus stop.

The 5-year-old's lavender gown was draped below her ankles; her favorite sleeping pal tucked under her right arm.

For many kindergartners at W.E. Parker Elementary School and throughout South Carolina and Georgia, the day ended Monday just as it did the night before: children dressed in Doctor Dentons and wearing bunny slippers or donning housecoats, their favorite blanket dragging behind them.

It wasn't an accident, just the beginning of "Read Across America" and Dr. Seuss' birthday.

Led by Dr. Seuss' storybook hero, The Cat in the Hat, an estimated 1 million volunteers nationwide fired up the country's commitment to literacy by the simple act of picking up a book and sharing its words with a child.

Pat McKie, a 60-something retired teacher from W.E. Parker, is one of them. She spends a few hours each month sharing her love for storytelling with school pupils.

"My husband tells lies, and I tell stories," said Mrs. McKie, a 20-year veteran teacher, who kept children wide-eyed and spellbound with stories of hairy beasts and greedy spiders.

Her 5-year-old grandson, Manse, was among those glued to the library floor.

Mrs. McKie discovered the art of storytelling at a teacher's conference in Hilton Head.

Being a grandmother, she picked up on it fairly quickly, tried it in her remedial classes and saw a remarkable change. The self-esteem of her pupils rose as did their grades.

"Sometimes you wonder if you're going to be in the mood to tell another story, but when you see those children smile and all wide-eyed, you know you've made a good impression," said Mrs. McKie, whose daughter, Laura Jolly, teaches kindergarten.

"I enjoy this," Mrs. McKie said.

In recent years, national leaders have talked about creating world-class standards for public schools. But too many children won't read, don't read or can't read.

However, there's no sense wringing hands about it, Mrs. McKie said.

"We've got to roll up our sleeves," she said.

"Read Across America" comes on the heels of The America Reads Challenge of 1997, which sets forth the first comprehensive, nationwide effort to create after-school, summer and weekend tutoring in reading.

Working with teachers and parents, this initiative calls on Americans in all fields to ensure that every child can read well by the end of the third grade.

The nearly $1.5 billion in new education spending from the proposed legislation would supplement classroom reading instruction by allowing partnerships to train tutors.

"Literacy is the key to all learning," said President Clinton in his Saturday radio address. "Without it, history is a maze, math is a muddle, the Internet is indecipherable."

For the remainder of the week throughout South Carolina and Georgia, volunteers will be reading to pupils, and civic clubs and businesses will be giving away books.