By Andrea Albright
KUs Reading Program for Children is counting down to a milestone that has been 56 years in the making.
In April, program administrators in Continuing Education expect to record the one-millionth Kansas student to participate in the program. Although a specific student wont be identified, all of the young participants from the school will be celebrated with a notable guest and other festivities.
Program Manager Marvin Hunt said the program served about 30,000 students annually across Kansas. The goal, he said, was to encourage children to develop an early love of reading and to make a connection between the child and KU.
Children know that somewhere in the state theres a university where they value what theyre doing, Hunt said. Its perhaps some of the first contact KU makes with children in Kansas.Hunt said the program distributed information each year to every school district in the state. Teachers and librarians then coordinate the program to accommodate the needs of specific children.Although the program has specific requirements for each level through eighth grade, Hunt said on-site coordinators had some latitude to reward children who didnt quite fulfill the requirements but were improving.
We let them loosely interpret this to decide who deserves the awards, Hunt said. But it also gives specific criteria. Some kids eat that up.
So far, more than 985,000 students in Kansas have received their honors. At KU, several faculty and staff members remembered participating in the program not long after its inception in the late 1950s.
Steve Bunch, director of continuing education, said his memory of reading for the program was vague but his memory of the award was clear. A Shawnee elementary student at the time, Bunch was proud enough of his award to display it prominently in his bedroom.
I remember having the certificate framed and hanging on my wall, he said. That was probably my first conscious realization that there was a place called the University of Kansas.
For Bunch, the program reinforced the value of reading in a home where the practice was already encouraged.
However, Deb Teeter, director of institutional research and planning, remembers the program for different reasons.
Teeter, whose mother was a librarian, also participated in the program during the 1950s, but Teeter said she was unsuccessful because she resisted reading.
I participated in the program, but I didnt complete it I didnt get my Jayhawk, she said. I always regretted that. I failed to get my first Jayhawk, and Ive been trying to make up for it ever since.
Teeter said her rebellious nature toward reading caused her grief for many years, limiting her cultural literacy. However, she has since put herself on a program to catch up and has pledged to help children get on the right track at a young age by giving books as gifts.
Im not well-read, she said. Im trying to make up for that today.
KUs reading program is seeking other anecdotes from KU faculty and staff who remember participating in the program during their formative years. Stories may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hunt said he hoped the reading program would continue for years to come. He said it was mind-boggling to think about the number of children who had participated so far but even more incredible to think of the future. Hunt said he didnt see an end in sight.
It has survived because its a simple, straightforward program that supports the love of reading, he said. You try to get those values in early. Were emphasizing the love of books. Its worked for just that reason.