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    Of Colored Pencils, Reading, Teaching, and Mom

    Vintage SRA Pencils copyright beabethompson.com
    Vintage SRA Pencils copyright beabethompson.com

    I fully intended to get in at least four hours of writing done this morning. Fully intended. Next week starts RWA chapter Kiss of Death’s Book In A Week program. My first productivity derailment was Windows and AVG slugging out dominion over my computer. Windows denied me entry because of my poorly selected start-up selections. While waiting for my computer to come to its sense, I started sorting through a huge stockpile of office and art supplies. That’s when the real detour started up.

    Years ago Mom was head of a federal reading program in her home parish in Louisiana. This was after going back for an ME, as well as teaching kindergarten, first grade, and fifth. Her first vocation was an artist. She’d lived in Chicago, taught in an impoverished area’s grade school while studying art at a nationally known art institute. After one near tragedy, she went home to my grandparents, getting a BA in education, getting married twice to my dad, and having two little girls. She ended up rearing us alone, and gave up her dreams of becoming a famous artist. You might say her students became her works of art, and she loved teaching them.

    When she passed away from lung cancer over a decade ago, the minutia of Mom’s life seemed random. Nothing of her life as an artist remained except for a beautiful old wooden artist’s paint box. I took home a collection of colored pencils intending for my small boys to use them for school projects, but this part of Mom’s past got lost in the muddle. While I was sorting through supplies for the Hindu charity my son’s interning for this summer, I found these pencils. What caught my eye was the labeling of the partially empty box. SRA.

    My fellow Hodge Elementary School chums remember SRA as a reading program that enticed children to read through different tiers of stories. It was color-coded, with reading cards filed neatly in a beautiful cardboard box display. A child would pull out a card, working their way up the system to higher levels. The higher the level, the more difficult the reading. There were color-coded pencils to manually keep track of your progress, the same ones pictured above.

    This program was one of the many reasons I love reading. SRA was like a genie’s lamp, or a magic passport. I ate up all the SRA cards and went to Gold level, reveling in the one few thing I counted as a talent, my reading ability. Along the way each card taught me something new like far away places like Pompeii. History, geography, it was a perfect program to egg children on in reading, and I adored SRA.

    When I saw the little box, a little part of me went fangirl. I searched through the plastic tub that held our motley collection, and picked out all the SRA pencils Mom had brought home over the years. Multiple hues of the rainbow were there, including well-worn silver and gold, the pinnacles of the reading program. This was one of those moments when I missed Mom most. A little bit of her life was there spread out on my desk, labeled in fading words. The hours she spent teaching children to read were the most rewarding of her long career as an educator, and here was a tangible reminder.

    Just out of curiosity I looked up SRA to see if it was still around. Yep, still going, still being used in classrooms. Almost fifty years have gone by since I first made its acquaintance, and the magic of reading is still with me.

    Thanks to all the teachers who started me on this path, especially the teachers of Hodge Elementary, and my mom.