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Kids are getting smarter through SMART

A student participating in SMART at Blossom Gulch shows off one of the donated books.

COOS COUNTY – Business communities in Oregon want children to learn how to read.

Twenty six years ago in Portland and Bend, businesses established the Start Making A Reader Today (SMART) Program after noticing that Oregon students were struggling to read.

Now that program has reached 26 counties and 270 schools across the state. In Coos and Curry counties, there are close to 500 students in the program, according to SMART communications specialist Phoebe Petersen.

In Coos County, the program’s goal is to serve 245 students.

“This is a statewide organization, where we pair adult volunteers with pre-K and third grade children,” Petersen said. “We’re focused on building reading engagement motivation and fostering a love of books and reading, so our volunteers read one-on-one with students for one hour a week, on average.”

Not only that, but the program gives away two books a month to its students so kids can read on their own and build their libraries.

Because Coos County will serve 345 students this school year, the program is planning to give away a total of 4,800 books.

“Teachers select students to participate in the program,” Petersen said. “They make that selection for a variety of reasons.”

With pre-kindergarten students, the program often serves entire classrooms. However, for older kids, students are selected by teachers because they struggle with reading, need more one-on-one time, could benefit from having an adult focus on them, or benefit from having books they can keep.

“In some cases, students are chosen because they are already reading on their grade level but could use a push to get to the next level,” Petersen said.

Every year, teachers with students in the program are surveyed to evaluate how effective the extra reading time has been. On average, students are showing a 95 percent improvement in their literacy development because of SMART.

“Our research shows that really focusing on reading motivation and engagement is critical for kids to foster a love of reading,” Petersen said. “If they love something they are more likely to want to do it and do it well, so we focus on having fun with books and helping kids to see reading as something enjoyable.”

To volunteer or make a monetary donation, call the South Coast SMART office at 541-266-7476.

“We buy our own books because we are specific about which ones we use,” said South Coast SMART area manager, Cheryl Brown. “Any monetary donations made locally stays local.”

For more information, visit

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.