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July 20, 2005 Extra Credit
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July 20, 2005

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"It’s a Complete Transformation…. He’s Got an Unlimited Future As I See It"

The following is an article from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (7-19) on students benefiting from the Early Reading First program, one of President Bush’s signature reading programs under the No Child Left Behind Act:

Getting an Early Start

At age 3, Benyam Yosef could barely utter a syllable.

While most children begin to talk before they turn 1, Benyam "couldn’t say a word," said his father, Samson Yosef.

But a year and a half later, after working with a speech therapist and attending the Early Reading First Project Excellence program, Benyam, 4, has bloomed. He is reading every book he can get his hands on — even sounding out three- and four-syllable words — and has memorized Dr. Seuss’ books.

The Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district and the federal Head Start program collaborated to sponsor the program to give low-income pre-kindergarten students a leg up in reading and writing. Registration is July 27.

Young students in the early reading program get a more comprehensive education than at most paid pre-kindergarten programs, said Evon Todd, an Early Reading First teacher at Mid-Cities Child Development Center in Euless. They learn reading and writing, and regularly get health care, dental care and nutrition assessments.

Students in the program also benefit from the extra mentoring and training that the teachers get from a federal Early Reading First grant. Parents participate in monthly meetings with teachers and are encouraged to reinforce learning through take-home activities.

Because many students come from families that can't afford books and supplies, they receive backpacks with books, activities, markers and pens. The backpacks are refilled every week.

The Early Reading First program, which is limited to 360 children in the H-E-B school district, is free. Such a program could cost thousands of dollars in tuition at private pre-K schools, said Gloria Serrano, Head Start program director for Tarrant County.

The program is based on the idea that if students learn reading and writing early, "you won't see a high drop-out rate, and students will be successful throughout their school years," she said.

Benyam’s parents, natives of Ethiopia, are thrilled with their son’s progress. He will enter kindergarten in the fall and is already reading at a second-grade level.

In addition to English, Benyam can communicate using words and phrases in Spanish, sign language and his parents' native language of Amharic. And he loves school.

"It’s a complete transformation," said Samson Yosef, a limousine driver. "He just talks and talks. … He’s got an unlimited future as I see it.

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NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

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Last Modified: 07/21/2005