Horses Lead First-Graders To Reading

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Throughout Rim country history, horses have been used as a means of transportation, to herd cattle, plow earth, deliver mail and pull wagons.

Today, horses have taken on entirely different roles -- they are being used at elementary schools around the Rim country to help inspire children to read.

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Taran Sarnowski, a student in Mrs. Price's first-grade classroom at Julia Randall Elementary School, was among the children who participated in the Black Canyon Literacy Project. As part of the study, the Payson Horseman's Association took horses to JRE for the children to interact with.

In an effort to encourage first-graders to read the Walter Farley books, "Little Black, a Pony" and "Little Black Goes to the Circus," members of The Payson Horseman's Association and Janice Gottschalk of the Black Canyon Literacy Project, visited Pine, Julia Randall and Frontier elementary schools Jan. 18.

At Julia Randall, the horseman's association brought along two child-friendly horses for the first-graders to pet, touch and enjoy.

One by one, the children approached the animals that stood several hands taller than the tikes. Some were intimidated by the sight of the huge animals on their school grounds, others were excited to stroke the horses manes and faces.

After spending a few minutes with the animals, the children scurried off to nearby rocks and knolls where they perched themselves to read a copy "Little Black, a Pony" that was given to them earlier by their teachers.

For principal Peggy Miles, the minutes the children spent with the horses were great motivators.

"Seeing and being with the horses created a connection between real life and the fictional horse in the book," she said. "It was exciting for them and they wanted to read."

The program, known as "First Touch" in the Black Canyon Literacy Project scheme, was funded at Julia Randall Elementary School by the Payson Rotary Club.

Later in the school year, the students will be taken on a "Second Touch" field trip in which they will see several horses and learn about the care of the animals.

As fourth-graders, the students will again participate in the project, reading more advanced, hardcover Walter Farley books and eventually taking in a horse show.

Last year, a touring group from Florida performed at WestWorld in Phoenix for thousands of fourth-graders who participated in the program.

The Literacy project was conceived in 1999 in Florida, by Tim Farley, Walter Farley's son. He said his purpose in founding the project was to encourage children to read using a simple and unique approach.

The literacy project is now a nonprofit group being supported by donations and through fund-raising by equestrian groups.

Although the program has only been in existence for five years, it is estimated to have reached more than 100,000 U.S. children.

The vice-president of the literacy project, University of Arizona education professor, Lucian Spataro, along with several colleagues, have developed a 400-page curriculum for teachers to use in the reading project.

In 2001, President George Bush recognized the Black Stallion Literacy Program as a Daily Point of Light.

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