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Hooked on Books Sets an Example

SANTA FE, N.M. — Students at the Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences are setting a wonderful — and effective — example for both their peers and the rest of us.

Their public service project, “Hooked on Books,” has lured hundreds of students into loving to read. Monday, Hooked on Books organizers learned they’d received recognition — and a $1,000 award — from the Pearson Foundation and PeaceJam, an education program based around Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

The Hooked on Books kids will spend the money on yet more books, which they have distributed to all sorts of unlikely places where other kids often find themselves waiting, including hospital emergency rooms and urgent care clinics — and the Motor Vehicle Department.

But that’s not all the students in the Arts & Sciences after-school group Youth United have done to encourage their peers to improve their reading skills and learn to love books.

They have found myriad ways to connect kids and books.

For example, the group reached out to prison inmates, helping them record a book so their kids could read along with the parent’s voice.

Youth United organized a summer camp based around phonics and aimed at encouraging bad readers. For some members of the group, that was a personal mission — because they’d been bad readers, too.

This isn’t the first time the group has gotten recognition — and funding — for Hooked on Books, either.

At one point, they decided to organize reading contests for really cool prizes, including iPads and Kindle reading tablets, even a free trip to the Los Angeles premiere of “The Hunger Games.”

Youth United persuaded the national nonprofit program of Albertson’s grocery chain to pay for it, with a $10,000 grant.

Youth United members say they were inspired to act by New Mexico’s dismal literacy rates, as well as, in some cases, their own difficulties. They’ve made a huge difference.

Participants in the summer camp who were often behind in school and in danger of being held back and often came from families that spoke only Spanish improved an average of one year in their reading skills by the end of the program. And that’s just one example.

This success — and the creativity behind its innovative solutions to a very real social problem — has set a standard for public-service-minded students and their elders.

Let’s hope Hooked on Books continues to help struggling readers — and inspire others to address the challenges they see around them with action.

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