When I was a kid, the standard punishment if you misbehaved in school was to make you do extra reading. And it sent a clear message: reading is a drag.

But times have changed. These days at Glenview Elementary School in Oakland, reading is treated as a reward. And the message is equally clear: reading is fun. On March 1 (Dr. Seuss's birthday), Glenview will celebrate its 15th annual Read-a-Thon. For one day, the kids will be allowed to put aside their schoolwork and do nothing but read for pleasure.

Some kids will bring their favorite books from home; others will choose books from the school library. Many of the youngest ones will come to school in their pajamas, dragging their teddy bears, sleeping bags and books behind them. They'll make "forts" in the middle of the classroom out of blankets and chairs, then climb inside and read, read, read to their little hearts' content. It's beyond cute.

Every year some outsiders, including San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll and me, are invited to come in and read aloud to the children; although if truth be told, the kids are far more impressed by the people they consider REAL celebrities: Oakland firefighters and paramedics (who bring their search-and-rescue dogs for the kids to pet) and student-athletes from Cal. As usual, I'll read from one of my Freddy the Pig books, which I consider to be on a par with "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little," only not as dark. (Nobody dies in a Freddy book.)


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The Read-a-Thon is the culmination a two-week period that starts now, during which the kids will fan out through the surrounding neighborhood and ask people to sponsor them by making donations to the school PTA. The kids will keep careful logs of how much they read each night, and the sponsors will donate accordingly. Every effort is made to protect the kids' safety: They must be accompanied by an adult they know personally, and they can only knock on doors of people they know personally.

Once again, third-grade teacher John Miller is offering his students an extra incentive: If every kid in the class reads at least 30 minutes a day, and if the class as a whole raises at least $3,000 for the PTA, he'll let them watch while he gets his head shaved. And once again, several neighborhood businesses are rallying around the Read-a-Thon. On Feb. 24, Ultimate Grounds will give away free coffee and a bagel to anyone who makes a donation. And Savemore Market will sell coffee at the school during the Monday morning drop-offs and donate the proceeds to Glenview.

The fundraiser is more desperately needed than ever this year because the school district has just announced that it's going to cut Glenview's budget by $124,000. That would eliminate such vital programs as music, drama, science, physical education, field trips, computer upgrades, playground supervision and emergency preparedness, unless the PTA can come up with enough money to fill the gap.

It's a shame our kids have to beg for money to fund their education. But that's what happens when you starve the schools as we have since 1978, when Prop. 13 was enacted and California's public schools went from the best in the country to among the worst.

Reach Martin Snapp at catman@sunset.net.

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