A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Reading For Fun

(Above: Two Glenview students reading at last year's Read-A-Thon inside a "fort" they made out of blankets and chairs.)

While you're reading this, students at Glenview Elementary School in Oakland are fanning out through the Glenview neighborhood and knocking on doors.
The kids are vowing to read 30 minutes a day, over and above their regular homework, for the next two weeks and asking the neighbors to sponsor them by donating to the Glenview PTA.
And the money is badly needed. There once was a time, back in the 1950s, when California's schools were the envy of the nation.
Then came Prop. 13, and people started thinking, "Who cares? They're not my kids." State and municipal governments slashed funding for public schools, and the voters routinely turned down tax hikes for education.
Today, California students score 47th in the nation in both math and reading. And it's even scarier in other subjects.
So each school is left to scramble for itself to make up the gap.  At Glenview, the money raised by this annual fund-raiser – dubbed the Read-A-Thon – will be used to fund science, technology, music, drama and arts programs.
When I was these kids' age, such programs were deemed essential. But they wouldn't exist at Glenview nowadays without the Read-A-Thon.
I really admire the parents in the Glenview PTA who put so much effort into this fund-raiser every year, but I can't help asking: Why should they have to? Why are these enrichment programs not a matter of right for every kid, without their having to go out and beg for them?
And what about schools that are poorer than Glenview, where the parents are already working two jobs and don't have the time to raise money for their PTA?
But for now it is what it is, and the parents at Glenview should be commended for making the best of a bad situation.
They spare no pains to make the fund-raising fun and safe for the kids, who are only allowed to knock on doors of people they know personally. And they must be accompanied by an adult they know personally.
At the end of the two weeks, on March 6, they'll be rewarded by a all-day party at school, when they will be allowed to do nothing but read, read, read for pleasure to their little hearts' content.
As added incentive, principal Chelsea Toller has promised to let them watch while she kisses a snake – Eeee-uwww! – if they raise $65,000.
And teacher John Miller has promised his third-graders that if 100 percent of them log a half-hour of reading every night, he'll let them watch while he gets his head shaved.
If you'd like to support the Read-A-Thon, you can do it online at glenviewelementary.org or by sending a check made out to "Glenview PTA" to Glenview Elementary School, 4215 La Cresta Ave., Oakland CA 94602.
Some Oakland firefighters, student athletes from Cal, and local writers (including me) will be on hand to read to the kids; and we get to choose what we read.
I'm going to reprise my triumph from 2014, when I read a book by children's author/illustrator David Macauley, whose specialty is explaining the way things work. Some of his best-known works are "Castle," "Cathedral," "Pyramid" and "Ship."
So last year I announced that I was going to read them his latest book: "Toilet."
The kids went wild.