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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Hooked on books

 •  Read Aloud America: Who runs it, how it operates

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Mau Tafia sat motionless, listening spellbound to the man reading Wilson Rawls' "Where the Red Fern Grows" to an audience in the Waipahu Elementary School cafeteria.

Jed Gaines of the Read Aloud Program quizzes students at Waipahu Elementary School. The school launched its first semester of the program Aug. 24. Read Aloud encourages parents and their children to read books together.

Photos by Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Nearly 40 Hawai'i schools run the Read Aloud Program, which is open to students of the host school and their siblings and parents.

Chasity Bachiller, 13, Carleeann Haili, 4, and Christell Haili, 7, came to the Waipahu Read Aloud Program with their aunt, Elizabeth Nakama.
Jed Gaines, wearing headphones and a microphone, finishes off two chapters, leaving 39-year-old Tafia wanting more.

Getting adults to show up to hear someone read to them might sound like a hard sell, but it works for Tafia.

"No," Tafia answers when asked if anyone ever read aloud to him when he was growing up in American Samoa. "It's so interesting. That's what I want for my daughter."

Tafia's revelation about reading is exactly the goal of the Read Aloud Program, which in three sessions this year has drawn 1,909 people to Waipahu Elementary School. The largest gathering, of 768 people, was for the first session on Aug. 24.

Mau and Etevise Tafia and their 5-year-old daughter Maurissa were among 602 people who attended the third of six scheduled sessions at Waipahu this year on Sept. 21. The sessions resume a week from today and again on Oct. 26 and Nov. 9.

Gaines, founder and president of Read Aloud America, said that "until you get families and communities together looking at values and attitudes at home, you can't look at test scores."

The Tafias are sold on RAP and have made changes in their lifestyle.

They signed up for a library card at Waipahu Elementary's first Read Aloud session on Aug. 24 and read aloud to their daughter instead of watching TV.

"We see a big difference," Etevise Tafia said. "We're talking more and spending more time together. We read aloud to her, but she is reading more on her own, too. We go to the library once a week."

The 90-minute sessions come with a free pizza dinner and prize giveaways that include gift certificates from Dave & Busters and Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park and end-of-semester drawings for a Hilton Hawaiian Village weekend vacation package and Sony boombox.

But what's more important, the message of boosting family reading by cutting off the TV is being heard.

Since January 1999, nearly 80,000 people have attended RAP sessions at 39 O'ahu public schools. Corporate sponsorship pays for 75 percent of the $27,000 cost of individual RAP semesters. Host schools pay the difference, which is about $6,750. The free sessions are open only to parents and siblings of host school students.


Parental strategies

• Find books that you and your child enjoy.

• Check with librarians or teachers on age-appropriate book lists.

• Read the story before reading it to your child.

• Find a comfortable place to connect with the one you're reading to.

• Make sure there are no distractions.

• Read aloud from the "heart." There's no need to use different voices.

• Make it fun, and don't ask questions about the story.

Reading for Kindergarten-Grade 3

• Read every day at a regular time and place.

• Take children to the library regularly.

• Sing songs, play games with letters and words.

Reading for ages 9-12, 13 and older

• Let children see you reading for pleasure.

• Extend your child's positive reading experience. For example, if your child enjoyed a book about dinosaurs, follow up with a visit to the museum.

• Limit TV viewing. Never use TV as a reward for reading or punishment for not reading.

The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics says its studies show that students who read for fun at home do better on reading tests. The Family Literacy Foundation of San Diego says its research shows that reading aloud with children is the best thing adults can do to prepare them for success in school.

Mau Tafia said not watching television was difficult for him at first. "We cut it out until (Maurissa) would go to sleep and then we would watch a movie or play video games," he said. "We don't do it anymore, and I not feeling like we missing anything."

Wayne Steiner and his wife, Krystle Shaffer, of Makaha, became legal guardians of 8-year-old Keoki Kumalaa-Au, a third-grader at Waipahu Elementary, two months ago and have been to all three RAP sessions at Waipahu.

Steiner, 48, a Hawai'i Pacific University student, has always enjoyed reading, but his wife, who grew up in foster homes, is finding reading aloud a new and rewarding experience.

"I believe 100 percent that it starts in the home," Shaffer said. "You're the role model, and your child simulates what you do."

Shaffer reads aloud daily with Keoki for up to 90 minutes.

"We read together and stop to go back to review words," she said. "Keoki was reading and writing at kindergarten level two months ago. He's now reading at fourth-grade level. It works."

The home sessions have changed Keoki's attitude about reading.

"They doing it for me because they care," Keoki said. "When we come to the hard words, they there to help me. That's why I like reading now."

RAP is an annual event for some schools, such as Nanai-kapono Elementary in Nanakuli, which is doing it for the fifth straight year. But it's the first time at Waipahu Elementary.

Looking into the crowded cafeteria and noting how difficult it has been in the past to get parents to come to school for anything but open house, Waipahu Elementary principal Keith Hayashi said investing in RAP has paid off.

"One of our major goals is to re-energize our community and build a partnership with our community and school," Hayashi said. "RAP is more than just about literacy; it's looking out for family bonding.

"We want reading scores to improve," Hayashi added, "but underlying all of that are the parents."

An offshoot of the interest generated from the RAP sessions at Waipahu is that Linda Uehara, the 2002 Leeward District's outstanding teacher, has been volunteering time at the school to work with parents on an after-school program held on alternating Tuesdays when no RAP sessions are scheduled.

"School ends at 2 and kids are doing crafts with their parents," Hayashi said. He thinks the parent-student participation reinforces the RAP effort.

Gaines, who has lived in Hawai'i more than 30 years, created the program with Jim Harstad and Marion Coste in 1998.

Gaines' experience in advertising and business is a big part of his fast-paced, showy presentations. A big part of his motivation is the way he came to believe in the value of reading.

Gaines learned to deal with severe dyslexia. "In life, everybody works with different issues," he said. "I compensated for my dyslexia by reading more and learning to be patient with myself."

Concerned in 1984 that there was a 50-50 chance his first child would be born with learning difficulties, Gaines began reading aloud to his infant son from Day 1. He did the same for his daughter in 1987.

The reading helped his late son Greg with his learning difficulties, Gaines said. His daughter, Adrienne, did not have learning problems.

"As Bill Cosby said, 'it's not a learning disability, it's learning differences,' " Gaines said.

Until two years ago, Gaines did all the RAP presentations. Today, he does about 75 percent of them. RAP's other presenters are Ted Norris, an executive for The Queen's Medical Center, and Tracey Saiki, a major in the Air Force reserve.

Thirteen-year-old Chasity Bachiller, who attended Tuesday's Waipahu RAP session with her cousins Christell Haili, 7, and Carleeann Haili, 4, smiled as she left the cafeteria clutching a copy of the 2004 Guinness Book of World Records she won in a drawing.

Getting a book would not have mattered to her a month ago, says Elizabeth Nakama, Chasity's aunt and guardian. "She was in the eighth grade, reading at second-grade level," Nakama said. "She's doing a lot better now."

Reach Rod Ohira at 535-8181 or rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.

• • •

Read Aloud America: Who runs it, how it operates

The Man

• Name: Jed Gaines, 59

• Age: 59

• Position: Founder/president of nonprofit Read Aloud America

• Birthplace: New York City

• Home: Honolulu

• Family: Married, three children, one of whom is deceased

• Read Aloud America board: Gaines, Dr. Charman Akina, Daniel A. Bent, Arlene S. Ching, James R. Harstad, Dori Kim, Jim Trelease, Joan Tanji, directors; Larry L. Myers, counsel; David Chinaka, treasurer; Marion Coste, education specialist

The Program

• What: RAP, the Read Aloud Program

Goal: Family literacy program designed to draw parents and children from participating schools together every other week to stimulate interest in reading, reduce television viewing and increase family time spent together.

• Current statistics: RAP is at four host schools — Nanaikapono Elementary (1,023 people for two sessions), Wai'anae Elementary (867 people for two sessions including standing-room-only crowd of 482 on Aug. 25), Waipahu Elementary (1,909 people for three sessions) and Pauoa Elementary (676 people for two sessions). Spring 2005 host schools are Kipapa Elementary, Palolo Elementary, Mililani Uka Elementary and Palisades Elementary.

• How it works: Host school provides meeting space, volunteers, copy services and pays 25 percent ($6,000-plus) of the total $27,000 per semester fee, 75 percent of which is covered by corporate sponsorships. Free for parents, students and siblings of host-school students.

Registration is held from 5:45-6 p.m. and RAP program begins at 6 p.m. with 15-minute introduction. From 6:15 to 7 p.m., children go to different classes based on age level, where they are read to by volunteers. Parents remain with Gaines, who reads to them. The adults and children regroup at 7 p.m. and are served a free pizza dinner. Door prizes are awarded during the introduction and after dinner. Also drawings for grand prizes such as a weekend vacation and a boom box are held at the end of each semester. For every session attended, a family receives a ticket to enter into the drawing.

• Information: Reach Jed Gaines at 531-1985 or info@readaloudamerica.org.