Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 13, 2013

Cheerleader for literacy, reading and children


TRAVERSE CITY — Ruth Bay loves reading so much that she's spent the last 30 years trying to share that joy.

Bay is a volunteer tutor and mentor in a Traverse City elementary school through the Grand Traverse Probate Court Learning Partners program.

She is also a board member for the Grand Traverse Literacy Council, which works with adults. She's president of the Friends of the Traverse Area District Library; through that, she serves on various committees that help support events like the National Writers Series and Poets' Night Out.

She's deeply involved in TC Reads, an annual community reading of a selected book that is now entering its 13th year.

She's also active in the Born to Read and ReadAloud early literacy programs.

Through her work with the Probate Court, she also has served as a court-appointed special advocate to protect the interests, health and safety of children who have been removed from their homes because of neglect or abuse.

Why does Bay care so much about literacy, young children and parents reading to their children?

"It's so important, once you understand the doors it opens up and the horizons it widens," she said. "And it's another level of helping children. I find it rewarding to be involved in something that I think can make a difference."

Brain research indicates that the time between birth and kindergarten is critical for development of the brain architecture, reading proponents say. Reading aloud to young children is important in that process. Listening to short stories, even by newborns, can help infants recognize sounds and words and prepare them for the classroom and a lifetime of reading.

"Many parents weren't read to as children and don't realize the importance of reading to their children," Bay said.

Research increasingly shows the importance of early proficiency in reading. The first three grades are considered extremely important as students switch from "learning to read" to "reading to learn," because children continue to build upon prior knowledge to develop grade-level academic skills and knowledge. Students who fall behind early on have a harder time catching up by third grade because teachers are beginning to use written text to teach science, history, math or literature, says a 2010 report by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University in Rhode Island.

The probate court volunteer tutor-friend addresses attempts to confront that as well as other issues.

"We work with elementary students who are recommended by the schools because they are on the edge of falling behind, mostly in math, reading and spelling," Bay said. "Quite often there are social issues and low self esteem."

Volunteers also take the students swimming, ice skating, fishing at Sabin Pond or to Old Town Playhouse dress rehearsals, sometimes with the whole family — if the subject is appropriate.

Bay said both her parents read to her as she was growing up in a family of five children.

"I learned a lot from my parents and was encouraged to give back," she said.