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Turco, Stars Foundation kick off Stick With Reading program

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

Most of us take our ability to read for granted. For those reading this article, it probably comes so naturally, you hardly think about it.

Video from the kickoff rally: (700K )

But reading is not an instinctual skill, it has to be learned, and for many young children, it can be a difficult process. But with a little additional incentive to keep practicing, most stick with it and end up developing the skill to the point where it does become easy.

Marty Turco
For thousands of kids in the Metroplex, a large part of that incentive comes from the Dallas Stars’ Meritage Homes Stick with Reading program presented by Half Price Books, which kicked off its 10th year Monday with a rally at Ronald E. McNair Elementary School in Dallas.

The program, an initiative of the Dallas Stars Foundation that runs through December 3, tracks the number of minutes that children in grades K-8 spend reading independently, and can be in the form of books, magazines or newspapers, and can consist of reading to oneself or reading aloud to others.

With Turco as the spokesman for the sixth straight year, in 2007, there are a total of 40,351 kids enrolled in the program, representing 1,864 classrooms in 28 different ISDs throughout the Metroplex. 

“Initially, it was just the idea of making one kid more interested in reading,” Turco said. “If you could do one kid, that makes a big difference to me, but we’ve had the opportunity to do thousands, if not tens of thousands now that are involved in the programs. And over the years, the letters I’ve received, the pep rallies I’ve attended, those end up as my finer days during the hockey season away from the rink.”

On Monday at McNair Elementary, in one of those pep rallies, which was emceed by Stars national anthem singer and former American Idol finalist Celena Rae, Turco took some time to read from the children’s books ‘My Teacher for President’ and ‘The Giving Tree’ to an auditorium full of cheering children. 

“I enjoy reading to them,” Turco said. “It’s amazing that you can garner so much attention from kids whose attention span, as we all know, is quite short.”

Also on hand with Turco Monday were two teammates, backup netminder Mike Smith and winger Krys Barch, along with Mark Wren, Community Relations Manager for Half Price Books, one of the sponsors of the program.

“Half Price Books has always promoted children’s literacy issues since our company was founded in 1972,” Wren said.  “And we thought this was a great opportunity to work with the Dallas Stars in promoting the love of reading, the love of the printed word, to children. We thought this was going to be a great way to reach as many kids as we possibly could.”

With the memories lingering of past Turco promotions that have depicted him reading in the crease while play was down the other end, the program has been a huge success over the years, as hundreds of thousands of kids have participated in it. 

“The program was created to encourage students to spend some of their free time exercising their minds by reading,” said Carla Rosenberg, the Executive Director of the Dallas Stars Foundation. “It is our hope that this program will inspire many children to pick up a book who otherwise may not have done so. The program also offers a challenge to those students who already incorporate reading into their free-time activities.”

“Reading is an important part of your life, no matter what interest or career you choose to pursue,” Turco said. “Reading opens doors for you and broadens your horizons. Just by picking up a book and reading, you can learn about places you’ve never visited, people you’ve never met, and experiences you’ve never encountered. There’s a whole world out there just waiting for you to explore through reading.”

Krys Barch
The way Stick With Reading works is that the children earn credit for each minute they spend reading material that is not part of their usual classwork. Students that exceed 500 minutes of reading over the eight-week period ending Dec. 3 will be recognized with special prizes, while those going over 800 minutes will be named to the to the All-Star Reader Team and will receive special All-Star Reader prizes. 

Other awards include individual commendation for the student in each of three age categories (Grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-8) who totals the most minutes, who will receive four tickets for their family to a Stars home game, an autographed Turco jersey and a chance to meet Turco.

The classroom that completes the program with the highest average minutes per student will also receive tickets to a Stars home game, and the entire school that totals the highest number of minutes overall will host a party with the team in January 2008.

“I fully believe that kids need incentive for anything they do,” noted Rae, who emceed the kickoff event for the third straight year. “They’re kids - they want to be rewarded for  things that they do, so to be able to provide them with incentives through hockey, to get them to read and to learn and to build and to grow, is great.”

“This program has a tremendous impact upon the kids, and they’re excited about being able to win the prizes,” added Pam Brown, Librarian/Media Specialist for McNair Elementary. “The last three years, we’ve been able to give them a booklight, a hockey puck, t-shirts, and because we do it school-wide, we have 100 percent participation.”

That enthusiasm demonstrated by McNair in the past was a key reason that the initial rally was held there in the first place, and the children were rewarded for that before the program even started.

“All the kids received autographed player cards as well as Dallas Stars ticket vouchers to selected games over the next few weeks,” noted Claire Kinzy, Community Relations Manager for the Stars, of the kids in attendance Monday. “McNair has consistently had high levels of participation in the program each year, and this was a way of thanking them for their participation and hard work over the years.”

Of course, kids love to compete and win prizes, but the real reward for them is learning and improving their reading abilities that are fostered and developed through the program.

“It has helped them tremendously in that it improves comprehension,” Brown noted. “It improves book awareness - more awareness of what new books are out there, and it challenges those who, when they see another student with a book, they become excited about it.”

“It really is help raising our reading scores,” added Gay Patrick, the Director of Library Media Services for the Dallas Independent School District.

Mike Smith
From the Stars’ point of view, in addition to helping promote literacy among the Metroplex youth, it also helps introduce a whole new audience of children to the game of hockey who otherwise might not have been aware of it.

“It’s just a lot of fun to see the kids, and to get them excited about reading, but not only about reading, but hockey,” noted Celena Rae. “So it’s a nice combo, and it’s a lot of fun.”

“This is our first time that the children are getting exposed to actual Stars players in hockey,” said Brown, McNair’s Librarian. “We got a chance to preview a video, so they would know that they were not getting two points by shooting a basket or a baseball. A lot of them were not aware of ice hockey, so that was very inspirational for them to learn something new, a new sport.” 

The new hockey fans at McNair, in addition to receiving gifts and listening to Turco read aloud to them, also had the chance to ask the hockey players questions. 

Some of notable queries were, ‘Who is your hero?’ to which Mike Smith answered his father for the sacrifices he made to help him reach his goals; ‘What is your favorite book?’ to which Krys Barch answered ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ by Dr. Seuss; and ‘What is your favorite sport other than hockey?’ which for Turco, the answer was golf.

Barch for one, really enjoyed the infectious energy and excitement displayed by the auditorium full of attentive children.

“The atmosphere, I’ve never seen anything like that,” Barch said. “It was pretty neat coming in and seeing all the kids singing. It was moving. It was unbelievable.”

So is the impact that the Stick With Reading program has had on the youth of the Metroplex for the incentives it has provided them and the worlds it has opened up to them through the wonders of reading.
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