www.gae.org | 15 Dr. Seuss emphasized the benefits of reading with a catchy rhyme: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” (I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!). The sentiment is simple but significant: reading at all ages is important, but especially to the youngest of scholars. A certain Deborah Lazarus shares this belief (as well as an appreciation for Dr. Seuss). What sets Ms. Lazarus apart is that she has put this belief into decisive action. Five years ago, she initiated a reading program on her afternoon bus route, with the young readers affectionately being called “Road Readers.” Inspired by a fellow bus driver, James Ojeda, who had a similar program on his own bus route, Ms. Lazarus started with a small collection of books she purchased. The students involved are within pre-K and 5th grade. The older students, typically 4th and 5th graders, read to the younger children while the bus is on the road. At times, the younger children in 1st and 2nd grade may read while the other children are boarding the bus. The reading program has become one that is prestigious, and the kids are eager to participate. The young readers are not chosen by Ms. Lazarus; they approach her for the chance to read to the bus. The privilege does not come without requirements: the students must have a track record of good behavior on the bus and a satisfactory progress report. Once chosen, Ms. Lazarus compiles a schedule of readers for the school year. Then, on the reader’s assigned month, he or she reads to the bus on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from a front-row seat – with a book of his or her choosing. Students benefit greatly from reading frequently. The National Education Association cites studies that show that students’ overall reading skills grow from regular practice, and the advantages of being a good reader are not limited to literature. According to statistics compiled by the National Education Association, children who read often are more likely to*: • Count to 20, or higher than those who were not (60% vs. 44%) • Write their own names (54% vs. 40%) • Read or pretend to read (77% vs. 57%) Ms. Lazarus notes that the students are learning many important skills through this program, including learning to do for others and public speaking. This particular route has approximately 50 kids, which is a rather large group to stand in front of and present a book. Some have to overcome a fear of reading in front of others, but what’s most important to Ms. Lazarus is that her “babies,” as she affectionately calls the kids on her bus routes, feel supported and that they know “they are the best of the best.” The pride and affection Ms. Lazarus has for her “babies” is evident. She strives to be supportive and encouraging in the reading program and beyond. She sets high expectations for good behavior and manners on her bus, and instructing the young gentlemen on her bus to allow for “ladies first!” when boarding the bus. She reiterates, “I have the best of the best, so not many behavior problems on my bus.” While she makes sure she makes an impression on the students on her bus, she admits she has learned quite a bit from her young bus riders over the years. She has learned not to be quick to judge a student on an isolated behavior, making a point to emphasize that “kids are kids” and sometimes they may misbehave due to other stressors in their lives. Also, she stresses that it is important that the kids not see you “rattled,” and to stay in control, and last but not least – enjoy the time, as the kids can often teach you important life lessons as well.
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