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"Accomplished Readers"
Linda O'Connor
Life - Tuesday, January 23, 2007 @ 10:00

(The Intelligencer, Belleville ONTARIO)

A special honour will be bestowed on several young people later this month - medals for reading.

Considering many of the nearly 40 children, who range from four to 15 years, struggle getting through a book, it's quite an accomplishment.

It's also a badge of honour for Links to Learning, located in the basement of Quinte Bible Chapel on Victoria Avenue.

All these children are taking part in Reading Rocks!, a program offered at Links. The program is run by 15-year-old Melanie Burton, who has won several awards for her efforts, including a TVO award as an Agent of Change.

Melanie's mother Joan, who runs Links to Learning, says Reading Rocks! was started four years ago because they were looking for a program to encourage children to read.

"Kids were reading and taking out books, but doing it individually," explained Burton.

In 2003, Melanie started Authors in Action, when she wrote to children's authors for autographed copies of their books to auction off in support of the library at Links. She also did a readathon and raised $1,290 - her age (she was 12 at the time) times 100.

It was this money that helped with the start-up costs of Reading Rocks.

In the program, the children are given 20 books at a time and a chart to keep track of the number of books they have read, based on their reading level.
Their first goal is to reach 100, then 500, and several have become unlimited readers (called second milers). They can also go on to be page turners, geared to more advanced, older readers.

One of the biggest obstacles for many families is not having the books to read, says Burton. "We supply the books at their reading level to help them become successful."

The Grade 10 student said parents sign their children up as a way to get them more motivated to read. Others, however, enjoy reading and want access to more books.

"We've also got some three and four year olds whose parents want to jump start their reading. They're keen on getting them started early."

Tracy St. John, whose son Jessie St. John-Parker, five, read 600 books over the last year, said when her son started, he couldn't read at all.

"Now he's reading a little above his grade level. He really enjoys it and it encourages him to read.

'"His goal is to make it to 1,000 next year," said his proud mom, who is on the board at the non-profit agency.

Ten-year-old Maria Toepp-Harfst is an example of one of the enthusiastic readers.

"The first time I did it, I didn't stick to my goal of reading 100 and I dropped out. This year, I read 516 (books). Next year I want to get to at least 700, or if I go into page turners, I want to reach 1,000 pages."

One parent said she appreciates that each child's reading level is assessed and the books are selected according to that level.

"The girl had difficulties with reading; they were easily discouraged and did not enjoy reading. At their own level, they are now enjoying reading and meeting with success."

Melanie, who attends Moira Secondary School, said she loves to see the children progress through the program, "and learn to love reading like I do."

Her mother said Melanie also has an appreciation for the struggles the children are facing.

"She helps encourage them. She's well suited for working with kids." The awards will be handed out by MPP Ernie Parsons on Jan. 27, which is Family Literacy Day. The award presentation takes place from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Anyone interested in joining this year's Reading Rock! program can come in from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The remainder of the time will feature a book sale and literacy games.

Besides the Reading Rocks! program, Melanie also offered a tutoring program last summer which brought lots of children in to get help with their reading. She said she hopes to run it again this summer. As many teenagers turn to paid jobs to earn a little cash, Melanie said there is great satisfaction offering these programs at Links to Learning.

"As the coordinator of Reading Rocks!, I have the privilege of seeing a lot of successes and growth in the children in the program. These children all make progress in their reading and in other areas of their life too. I have had children come in who started at a below average grade level and make their way up to and sometimes surpass their grade level over the period of time that they are participating. Others have brought up their concentration and comprehension skills."



Reading Rocks helps children read
Posted By Sean Tomlinson
Posted Jan 24, 2008, The Intelligencer

When she was young, Melanie Burton wanted to read every children's book in the library. Her mom made a drawing of a thermometer, shading it red with every page turned and book completed.
Years later, she is still surrounded by children's books, only now they are in the hands of the young children she is teaching to read as part of her Reading Rocks program, run out of the Links to Learning resource centre in Belleville.
"It has always been in me," she said. "I've always been the kind of person who wants to help out." The 16-year-old Burton has been volunteering since the age of four, spending significant time at the Links to Learning centre, a program started by her mother Joan to help kids with learning disabilities learn to read.
Following her mother's example, Burton started Reading Rocks five years ago as a way to help children enjoy reading as much as she did when she was their age. Reading Rocks is free and is a non-profit program that tutors children who are behind their grade level in reading and comprehension skills.
This year, 54 children are signed up to participate. The children are mostly young but there is a wide age range, with the youngest being four-years-old and the oldest fourteen.
"I want them to experience the same joy of reading as I did even if they struggle with it," Burton said.
Her Reading Rocks program operates on a goal-oriented system. Each child sets a goal for the amount of books they will aim to read over the next year, with first timers usually starting at 100 books. Results show the effectiveness of the program. Burton says that every year at least five of her kids move up an entire grade in their reading level.
She speaks highly of an eight-year-old boy named Austin currently in the program. Austin started last July at a reading level far behind his peers. He was going into grade three in the fall and reading at only a kindergarten level. In the span of the last six months, he has read 230 books and improved his reading level by almost two grades.
Burton said the program is so successful because it is complimentary to what the children are taught at school, adapting to the learning style and abilities of each child.
"The program that we use is basically a no-fail thing," she said. "If what we are doing is not working then we change things. That's how we are different from other places. It's not by the book."
The books for the Reading Rocks program are not like any book you will find in a library. They are small, specialty books meant to build core reading skills and technique through repetition. These books are expensive and often hard to find. "The hardest part about running this unique program is having to come up with the money to do what is best for these kids instead of just buying second-hand books of Dr. Seuss or the Babysitter Club that they can't even read," she said. This is why Burton does fundraising bi-annually for the Links to Learning Centre. Each year, she tries to "raise her age," setting a goal to raise $100 for each year she has been alive. This year she is currently $90 short of her $1,600 goal. All the money raised will go towards the specialized learning resources used by the learning centre.
"We have kids who have read 500 books, and some of those kids have gotten all 500 from here," said Joan Burton. "That's why we are going to keep putting the money into this, because you have to keep finding the books."
To celebrate Family Literacy Day, the learning centre will be having a used book sale this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with awards being given out to this year's most accomplished readers between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. There will also be an opportunity for children to sign up for all the tutoring programs offered by the Links to Learning centre.
For more information, call 613-968-8700.


Rockin' and a readin'
by Ryan Holland
The Pioneer, Jan 26, 2008

In 2001, a nine-year-old girl had a goal to read every children's book in the east branch of the Belleville Public Library - seven years later, she has a library of her own. Melanie Burton became the Reading Rocks program co-ordinator when she was only nine, and is now responsible for teaching 54 youths how to read. Reading Rocks is a program initiated by Melanie, teaching youth with disabilities and reading difficulties to enjoy the activity and improve their literacy.

The program begins with a goal for a child to read 100 books in a year. These books can range from small stories only a few lines long, to books that would be found in any local library which help Melanie provide material for children of any reading capacity. "A lot of the kids we see here, what they find at the public library isn't simple enough for them," she said, explaining what the library provides for readers.

After setting their goal, the child will read books, moving his or her picture card along a racetrack painted on the wall, giving them a visual representation of their progress. Readers from the same school often race each other around the track, working harder to beat each other to the finish. Now eight years into the program, Melanie has an abundance of resources for children learning to read, and an information database for parents with children living with disabilities.

Part of the program's success is through the Raise Your Age fundraising effort that Melanie completes every two years. Her goal is to raise $100 for every year she's been alive, through door to door canvassing and other fundraising means. This year, the group is hoping to find a donor to match Melanie's goal of $1,600, which will go directly to the program.

Saturday marks the end of another reading year, in which some children have read over 500 stories, and received plaques as rewards for reaching their goals. On this day, youths will also be invited out to join the program, recognized by local developmental pediatrician Dr. Gordon Gosse.

"I basically refer them there to address their educational needs. The whole deal is to make it enjoyable, exciting and inspirational for kids," said Gosse. Aside from the excellent resource library he says they have, he credits the program co-ordinator's ability to "provide direct counselling and excellent practical advice for parents." Melanie and her family, who help with the program, refuse to charge clients, in an attempt to make reading accessible to everybody. "You have to look at the poverty issue," said Melanie's mother Joan. "In the demographics of this area, not too many kids have books in their home," she said, adding that part of the Reading Rocks mandate is reading should be barrier-free. Melanie plans on staying with the program for another few years, before she leaves for teachers' college.


Children discover that reading rocks
Posted By Bill Tremblay
January 20, 2008 - The Community Press Online

Melanie Burton

Belleville – Austin Bailey-Young loves to read. With the help of Joan and Melanie Burton, he is able to continue turning pages.
Joan Burton runs the Links to Learning Resource Centre which is a non-profit organization that helps parents meet the educational needs of their children. The centre also provides parents with resources for raising children with special needs.
Melanie Burton, 16, runs the Reading Rocks program, a division of the Links to Learning Centre, where nine-year-old Bailey-Young enrolled in last June. Since then, he has read 232 books.
"It's a lot for a kid to read, but I plan on reading more," Bailey-Young said.
On Saturday, he received an award for his literary efforts along with 53 other children.
"I am very surprised to get my award," he said. "I haven't been reading much in school, but I read a lot at home."
Other accomplishments singled out for awards included a Grade 1 student reading 1,000 books, and a five-year-old deaf boy reading 500 books.
Bailey-Young plans to read 500 books as well, through the Reading Rocks Program.
"I like to read many different kinds of books," he said.
Since the resource centre opened its doors eight years ago, it has held an annual awards ceremony for the children involved.
"I love seeing the kids reach their goals and enjoy reading as much as I do," Burton said.
Throughout the year the children are able to keep track of their reading. Their picture is put up on a chart, and each time they read 10 books they move up one level. Once they reach 100 books, they move up a level after every 50 books read. Special materials are provided to the children who have trouble reading.
"If a kid reads 100 books, they move up in their understanding of the world, and increase their vocabulary," Joan Burton said. "They certainly don't get behind in school, we are behind them."
The resource centre doesn't receive funding for their programs, and is run completely by volunteers. The space for the centre is rented out of the Quinte Bible Church on Victoria Avenue. Every two years Melanie aims to raises $100 for every year since she was born. This year she was able to raise $1,707. The funds raised are put into new books, and to buy the awards for the annual ceremony.
"I raised the money by going door-to-door or by short ads in newspapers," Melanie explained. "I also put out jars around town and asked friends, relatives or anyone I knew to support me."
Donations can be made to the resource centre by visiting linkstolearning.ca or by calling (613) 968-8700.


Reading Rocks co-ordinator up for national award
Posted By Bill Tremblay, The Community Press Online

Belleville – Helping children develop their literacy skills is just a click away.
Melanie Burton, the 16-year-old co-ordinator of the Reading Rocks program, is one of three finalists in the Me to We awards in the 13-to-17 youth category. The winner is based on online votes and will receive $5,000 for his or her program.
"I'm really excited about the nomination, it is really overwhelming. I just really love what I do," Burton said. "But it all boils down to being able to put more into the program and continue helping kids."
The annual Me to We awards are the creation of child rights activists Craig and Marc Kielburger as a way to recognize the work of youth who have given back to their communities countrywide.
The Reading Rocks program, a division of the Links to Learning Centre, encourages children to stay on top of their literacy skills.
"We have many children who come into the program behind in their reading," Burton said. "They get pushed along so quickly in schools they get frustrated with reading and just want to give up on it."
Each child enrolled in the program is given the goal of reading 100 books in a year. They are able to keep track of their reading on a chart in the program's office. Each time they read 10 books they move up one level. Once they reach 100 books, they move up a level after every 50 books read. Special materials are provided to children who have trouble reading.
"A lot of them get really excited when they see their classmates on the wall. They are able to compete against them," Burton said. "It keeps them motivated."
An awards ceremony is held each year on Family Literacy Day to recognize the children's efforts. Through the program, some children have read as many as 1,000 books.
Burton started the Reading Rocks program when she was 12 years old. She would help her mother Joan, the director of the Links to Learning Centre, with general tasks around the centre located at 188 Victoria Ave. but wanted to contribute more.
"When I was 11 I really wanted to be on the Links to Learning board of directors," Burton said. "Looking back now, being 11 and on a board of directors is a little much, but I kept pushing."
Her mother set up a mock board of directors program for her daughter and other children who were interested in helping out.
After finishing the program, Burton became a member of the board and started Reading Rocks.
"A lot of parents needed reading materials for their children," Burton said.
Running the program has become a part of Burton's lifestyle.
"It is certainly a juggling job, but other students take lessons or are in sports," Burton said. "It is just something I've chosen to do with my time.

Voting for the Me to We awards begins May 16 at www.metoweawards.com.


Moira student nominated for national award
Posted By Stephen Petrick, the Intelligencer

Jim Doyle's son has a head start in life and the Moira Secondary School teacher credits much of it to one of his students.
Melanie Burton has helped the five-year-old lad read more than 700 books over the last year, through a literacy program she started called Reading Rocks!
"My children mean everything to me. I want to give them every possible edge and Melanie's done that," Doyle said.
But that's not all.
Burton, a Grade 11 student at Moira, is also a valued supporter of her school's music department.
As a peer helper in a Grade 9-10 class, she helps younger students with challenging music. She has also fundraised for new equipment, particularly percussion, which she plays.
"Anything good you can say about Melanie is true," said Moira music teacher Andrew Cranshaw.
Now some of Burton's selfless acts are being recognized at a national level. Burton has been nominated for an award, sponsored by Canadian Living magazine, to honour outstanding volunteer work by young Canadians.
She is one of three finalists in the Youth in Action category (age 13 to 17) for the Me to We Awards. Starting May 16, visitors to www.metoweawards.com can read a profile of Burton and two fellow nominees and vote for the one they think is most deserving of the award.
The one with the most votes at the end of the month will receive $5,000 for the charity of their choice. If Melanie wins, the money will go to books for the Reading Rocks! program.
But Burton said just being nominated for a Me to We Award is an outstanding honour, considering the title was coined by one of her idols, author Craig Kielburger.
"I've followed Craig Kielburger for a very long time," Burton said. "To be a finalist for this award is beyond what I can comprehend."
Kielburger, the famous founder of Free the Children, recently penned a book called Me to We, which has inspired Burton.
"Our society tends to be very me centered," she said, describing the message of the book. "But we need to start a sense of community and learn to live by reaching out to others instead of focusing on ourselves."
When asked if her desire to volunteer stems from that philosophy, Burton paused, realizing only then that her work was being seen as selfless.
"I don't think about it that way," she said. "I love what I do. I love helping out in any way I can. Some people say, 'How do you find time for this?' It's something I've found time to do because I enjoy doing it."
Burton has been heavily involved with literacy efforts since she was a small child. At age 11 she became a board member for the Links to Learning Resource Centre, a program for parents of children with special needs, founded by her mother, Joan.
Then she started Reading Rocks!, a goal-oriented program, in which kids are honoured after reading their first 100 books and honoured again, each time they read an additional 50.
Last year Burton also started a separate summer tutoring program through Reading Rocks!, called Reading Round Up!
She's also heavily involved in her church, Quinte Bible Chapel, where on Wednesday nights she co-ordinates spirituality seminars for adults.
Her volunteer work has earned her praise locally. Earlier this month, Burton was presented the Maurice Rollins Youth Leadership Award, which comes with a $1,000 bursary.
But she had no idea her mother submitted an application on her behalf for a Me to We Award two years ago. Earlier this week she got a phone call, explaining that, after a couple years of rejection, she's been nominated as a finalist.
"I was pretty surprised," she said.
Burton added it was an interesting twist of fate because her mother used to not understand why her daughter wanted to be so active, at such a young age.
"My mom thought I was nuts," she said, recalling the time she asked her mother if she could apply to be a Links for Learning board member. "But she learned to never say no to me, because I keep pushing."


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