The Daily Gamecock

New professor hopes to combat illiteracy

Read-o-Rama to expand in South Carolina, beyond



At Monday's ceremony celebrating Michelle H. Martin as the inaugural Augusta Baker Chair in Childhood Literacy, Martin enthusiastically announced her plans to combat illiteracy by expanding childhood reading programs in South Carolina and beyond.

Martin introduced herself as a woman committed to service from an early age, even teaching a second-grade classmate to read when she learned that her classmate could not — a small bit of foreshadowing to Martin's eventual career.

As an English professor at Clemson University, she specialized in children's literature, African-American children's literature and community literacy programs, and she started the Read-o-Rama program, which began as a summer day camp in Clemson, S.C., in 2009.

The program, which Martin hopes to bring to USC and the Columbia area, serves children with literacy challenges and uses children's literature as a "springboard for hands-on applications," as Martin described it.

"Every activity — swimming in a pool, going on a hike, doing arts and crafts, jumping on a trampoline — expands the experience of the books that the children read," said Martin, who hopes to make Camp Read-o-Rama a statewide program in the near future and eventually expand it nationwide.

Other programs Martin hopes to implement are the Campus Literacy Pledge, in which incoming freshmen would take a pledge to read with a child or an adult with literacy difficulty once a week; Touchdown for Literacy, which would play on the USC–Clemson rivalry by encouraging fans on each side to donate new and gently used books on game day, which will be donated to area preschools and kindergarten classes; and Book Buddies, which would connect middle school children to elementary school children to and with whom the older children would read weekly.

Martin's idea for Book Buddies was inspired by Martin's daughter Amelia, who reads to third-grade students weekly.

Martin is not simply focusing on USC and the Columbia area, however; she hopes to have the Campus Literacy Pledge, once implemented, morph from an optional program to a compulsory one. She also hopes to extend Touchdown for Literacy to all area college football rivalries and make Book Buddies an established program in all South Carolina public libraries.

"I know a lot of what's out there, and I'm looking at them, seeing how I can help and trying to determine which ones are struggling," Martin said before imploring the audience to alert her of any organizations of which she was not already aware.

The Augusta Baker Chair, named after USC's former storyteller-in-residence and a pioneer in children's literature, is part of a Children, Libraries and Literacy Initiative of USC's School of Library and Information Science.

In addition to her many plans for creating new university and area outreach programs, Martin will begin teaching her first two classes in the Master's in Library Sciences program this spring and is hoping to get a contract for a major research project, which focuses on children's literature.

"Dr. Martin will help the university and the sate tell the story of how literacy contributes to economic development and help South Carolina's next generation of children who are articulate and able to reach their full potential," said Samantha Hastings, director of USC's School of Library and Information Science.


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