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Perfect spot for a good book: Program seeks to encourage teens to read more

Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reading is dead, or at least it seems that way. The act of curling up with a good book is rapidly fading into quaint obscurity with the likes of baseball card and stamp collecting.

This phenomenon is especially apparent in today's teenagers, who grew and continue to grow up in an era where the click of a remote or the flip of an "ON" switch instantly transports one to the vaguely satisfying state of semi-boredom provided by television and video games.

But the Boys & Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula is working to change that with the help of a $10,000 mini-grant from the Walmart Foundation's Bright Spot for Reading initiative, which seeks to reverse this trend by promoting the development of positive attitudes toward reading in adolescents aged 11 to 15.

Half of the $10,000 grant will go toward the repurposing of an area in the Kenai Teen Center, which will be decorated and furnished with couches, young adult books, and computers for kids to use for research; the other half will go toward paying the salaries of center employees involved in the project. The goal is to create a relaxing atmosphere and stylish space where teenagers can engross themselves in the wonderful world of words.

"Some kids love to read, some don't," said James Clark, the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula. "But our hope is that we can encourage those who are kind of on the fence about whether they like to read or not."

The grant, which ends in May of this year, is acting as a sort of jumpstart for the program, which Clark and teen director of the center Tony Travers hope will continue indefinitely. The initiative is also set to include activities in drama, art and technology, as well as field trips and service learning projects.

"This isn't a program that is just going to be for a little bit," Travers said. "We're trying to make it permanent."

While the immediate aim of the program is obviously the promotion of reading, the long-term goal is to build and maintain the skills bolstered by reading -- comprehension, analysis, critical thinking -- so these kids will make it to their high school graduation.

In a study conducted by the National Endowment for Arts in late 2007 entitled "To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence," it was found that not only are teenagers reading less -- less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, a 14 percent decline from 20 years prior -- they are reading less well.

"The reason that age group (11- to 15-year-olds) was targeted is because Boys & Girls Club of America is really on a push to help with the graduation rate," Clark said. "And reading is fundamental to helping kids graduate."

Clark said that right now the club is just waiting for the check to arrive so they can begin remodeling the selected area in the teen center, which he believes will be completed by the end of this month.

But won't teens who already like reading be the only ones enthusiastic enough to take advantage of this new addition?

"As with any program that we run in the teen center," Clark said, "it's up to staff to get the kids motivated to want to do it."

Karen Garcia can be reached at karen.garcia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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