Making Reading A Breeze

Cedar City residents prep their kites.

Utah Lions give students a lift for reading

Lofted by lusty winds with the majestic Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, an airborne parade of colorful kites fills the skies of Cedar City one day each April. Handed out to children, the nylon kites soar high. But the Lions of this city in Utah want the youths who wield the kite strings to reach new heights as they mature and move on in school and life. Reading—the Cedar City Lions believe—is a powerful tool for self-realization and achievement.

For 15 years, the club has passed out reading charts to the nearly 4,500 schoolchildren in the school district, and, three months later, rewarded those who read a set number of minutes with a kite, a book, or movie passes. Parents are grateful that the incentives to read result in hour after hour spent by their children curled up with books. “It’s such an important life skill,” says Juliann Wilson, who has three younger children. “Video games have taken away time from reading. Kids have lost the love of reading.”

Situated at nearly 6,000 feet, Cedar City otherwise is a typical small city with 31,000 residents. There is some poverty, some well-off families and a whole lot of folks getting by. Farming and ranching are main sources of employment. Southern Utah University also is a major employer as well as an impetus for culture and engagement with the broader world. Education—and reading—is seen as a necessity for getting ahead or, at least, not falling behind. “Reading is everything,” says Lion Mark Nelson when asked why his club chooses to support reading as its main project, aside from its backing of the many events on the Fourth of July.

A mainstay for 87 years, the club has 51 members. A member a few years back was the school superintendent, which helped lead to the reading program with the Iron County School District. Students record the minutes they read on the special charts given to them. Older children need to read more to qualify for a prize. Kindergartners and first-graders must log 70 minutes a week reading, while second-graders and third graders must tally 85 minutes and fourth to sixth-graders 125 minutes weekly.

About 900 students, or 20 percent of all students, usually reach the goal and merit a prize. The contest is purposely held during the latter part of the school year when interest in academics fades a bit. “The kids are losing interest and school and reading then,” says Nelson, who coordinates the project for the Lions.

“It’s really a great project for us because it doesn’t really take a huge amount of time,” says Nelson. The Parowan Lions Club helps Cedar City Lions with the project. Wilson’s three children mirror the overall disparate attitudes toward reading among schoolchildren. “My older boy has to be forced to read. My daughter loves to read. She does double the minutes needed. My youngest can’t read on her own, so we read picture books together,” she says.

For the project, Lions recruit sponsors—local businesses and other organizations whose names and logos appear on the reading charts. The revenue is donated to the Parent- Teacher Association (PTA) at the school (Wilson is president of the PTA.) The club has donated as much as US$15,000 in one year to the PTA. Last year the funds were used for supplies for art and science teachers and for Chromebooks.

Lions watch the children enjoy the fruits of their efforts.

Reading is a solitary endeavor, but a significant benefit of the reading project is the social engagement. Lions throw pizza parties for the classes with the highest participation. And the kites are given out and flown in conjunction with a whole slate of family- friendly activities. Police and firefighters teach safety techniques such as car seat safety, and wooden toys are handed out to build and paint.

“It’s hard these days for families to find time to do things together,” says Wilson. “The Lions are encouraging people to spend time together outdoors.”