PLATTSBURGH — Forty-eight million Americans have an income below the poverty level, according to American Community Survey data released by the U.S. Census.
No one knows more than Alice Sample how crucial early literacy is in changing that outcome for children.
“The more literate you are, the better you are able to get a job or know a job is there to get,” said Sample, who is the coordinator for Journey Into Reading. “One of the things that happened this year, our Reading is Fundamental funding was cut by the federal government. I’m one tiny, little portion of New York state. $2,400 just went away. Happily, all our local donors have come through, and we’re still doing Journey Into Reading.”
This is the first time since 1976 that the federal government has slashed the Reading is Fundamental budget.
“When they say they are cutting back, they really are. It’s a shame that it had to be literacy that got hit, but it did,” Sample said.
Sample and her volunteers — Sherry Beaubriand, Nancy Fournier, Barbara Ginette, Beth Noland, Bob Cheeseman and Cherie Barber — read stories to children from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. every Thursday outside of Kay Jewelers in Champlain Centre.
“We give away free books to all the young children, from zero to 18,” Sample said. “We started simply because we wanted to get parents aware of how important it is to read to children from the time they’re born. If they read to their children 15 minutes every day from birth, it amounts to 500 literacy hours before they enter kindergarten. Without those 500 literacy hours, as they walk through the front doors of kindergarten, they are all ready behind.”
An indicator of success in school whether a child comes ready to read.
“Reading is a jigsaw puzzle. If you come to kindergarten (from a reading household), you have four or five pieces and you can eventually fill in the jigsaw puzzle. If you come to school with none of the pieces, it’s very hard to fill in that jigsaw puzzle. Especially, if your cohorts are taking off and you realize you’re not taking off. It affects your self-esteem,” Sample said.
Can’t becomes don’t try for a child lacking self-esteem.
“We try to go at it at a positive angle. We try to get those kids ready to read. I have personally observed children coming to kindergarten that had been read to, and I saw the difference,” she said.
Sample was a reading consultant at Northside School at the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base. When she started her literacy program, she received financial backing from the Childcare Coordinating Council of the North Country.
“I really believe every mom and dad who has a little one wants the best for that little one. We must batter them with ‘You must read to your baby, you must read to your baby.’ Even if a person is a non-reader, they can read picture books. The baby needs to hear the sounds and those ideas. The experiences that you find in children’s picture books take you beyond whatever. It’s a real interaction with the kids,” she said.
Many young people, even college age, are not reading. When she was an educator, she made her fourth-graders look up words in a dictionary.
“It was hard. They were not used to using a dictionary. I had them looking up something with a picture on the page. They could find it more easily,” she said. “One of my little fourth-graders said, ‘Mrs. Sample I hated that dictionary. Now, I open the dictionary to find out stuff.’”
The same phenomenon is observed with encyclopedias.
“You go to research something and go on a tangent reading about all this other stuff. You tend not to do that with the computer. You do it a little. You go to something, you find it: instant gratification, and I’m done. It’s the same with Kindle. Nobody gets books on Kindle if they don’t have a love for reading.”
One young reader came when he was 5. Now, he comes with his brothers off and on.
“(He) showed up at the end of the summer and said, ‘Mrs. Sample, I want to pay back. Can I read to kids?’”
For one family, bath time was traumatic for everyone involved. Now, it’s part of the ritual before all the children, including the baby, pile into one bed for stories. The whole family looks forward to it.
“Is that not perfect?”
In 11 years, Journey Into Reading has given away 37,000 books.
“My husband keeps asking me ‘When is this going to be over?’ You think living in our community over 11 years, you’ve seen everybody. I told my husband it would end when we’re not getting new children. We always have 20 to 30 new kids every week. We give away around 100 books a week,” Sample said.
Sample has seen an increase in attendance since the Borders bookstore closed. Journey Into Reading spurred an offshoot at the CVPH Medical Center.
“The auxiliary at the hospital purchases ‘Whoever You Are’ by Mem Fox to give to every child born at CVPH. Inside the book is a coupon to come to Journey Into Reading and go over to Family Connections and get books there,” she said. “There is a flyer on how and why to read to my baby.”
Email Robin Caudell: email@example.com
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Journey Into Reading. WHEN: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays.
WHERE: Near Kay Jewelers, Champlain Centre, Plattsburgh.
CONTACT: Call Alice Sample at 561-4213 or visit journey intoreading.org.