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All dressed up in a pretty floral dress with hair especially curled for the occasion, 6-year-old Darlene Chase was anxious to show off. She was going to have her photograph taken while reading to her teacher, Ronda Anderson.

A few months ago, Darlene would have refused to be a reading model. She definitely wouldn't have described school as "fun" and "reading, just reading" as her favorite subject. She didn't like school, and she hated reading."Darrell" (not his real name) "was a terror in the classroom, was a terror on the playground," Bobbie Kirby said.

The first-grader in Salt Lake School District was first referred to English as a Second Language classes, then special education services. Finally, he was put on the waiting list for the Children's Behavioral Therapy Unit, a program for children with emotional and behavioral problems.

But something happened to "Darrell" when he was waiting to be admitted to CBTU. Within three short weeks, he was well-behaved, a star student. "His teacher told me, `I don't have the same `Darrell' that I had in the beginning of the year,' " Kirby said.

In fact, "Darrell," the young boy destined for CBTU, reads the newspaper daily and now qualifies for the district's Extended Learning Program for gifted children.

The reason for "Darrell" and Darlene's change in attitude is the same - Reading Recovery.

Now in its second year in Salt Lake District, Reading Recovery is what Kirby, the district's Reading Recovery coordinator, calls a "prevention" program, not remediation.

Reading Recovery pours individual instruction into the beginning of a child's school career. Working one-on-one with a specially trained Reading Recovery teacher, academically at-risk first-graders spend 30 minutes reading and writing daily. Nightly, the learning continues as the children and their parents do specific reading and writing lessons together.

It was the ability to read that transformed "Darrell" from classroom monster into model student. "Darrell was acting out his frustration at not being able to read or write," Kirby said.

Darlene, the middle child of six, has two older sisters who are super-achievers enrolled in the gifted program. Her parents stress academics at home. Every summer, her mother, Ronna Chase, holds summer school for her children.

But Darlene fidgeted at summer school. She colored when she was supposed to be reading.

"Reading was a frustration to her. She has the kind of personality that if she cannot do something perfectly, she doesn't even try," her mother related.

After learning Reading Recovery strategies, Darlene now reads to her younger siblings. Chase, who is pleased with Darlene's reading progress, is even happier about the soaring of Darlene's self-esteem.

"She tells me all the time, `I'm a top reader,' and that boost in self-esteem from reading has spilled over into other areas. She now realizes she's good in other things, too," Chase said.

Based on an internationally acclaimed reading program developed in New Zealand and used at Ohio State University, Reading Recovery maps out 60 lessons, but most Salt Lake children "graduate" after about half of the lessons. It took "Darrell" only 15 lessons to learn to read.

Recently, Jackson Elementary student Marisol Narvaez, 7, began a typical Reading Recovery lesson by reading a familiar book, "Where Are You Going Aja Rose?" to Anderson, who took notes throughout the lesson to mark Marisol's progress and weaknesses. Familiar books that the child can read easily are used first as confidence builders.

Marisol did get hung up on the word "owl," but Anderson reminded her to look at the pictures for hints about the word.

Some beginning readers know so little about books that they don't realize that the pictures accompany the story's action. Or that the story is found in the words, not the pictures. Or that sentences are read left to right.

"Some children come to school not even knowing how to open a book. They don't know the simplest things that we take for granted," Kirby said.

In her lesson, Marisol next selected a more difficult book, "Pets." Anderson noted the troublesome words. Marisol, for instance, read "feet" instead of "feed."

When Marisol finished, Anderson used magnetic letters and spelled out "feet" and "feed" and other missed words, pointing out differences in sounds.

Also in her lesson, Marisol dictated a sentence to Anderson. Then Marisol painstakingly wrote out her sentence. Anderson cut the words apart and put them into an envelope. That night Marisol and one of her parents were to reconstruct the jumbled words into the sentence. Marisol was also to read to her parents.

For this little girl, however, the nightly homework presents its own challenge. Marisol and her family moved to Utah from Mexico last year. Her parents speak Spanish at home.

With a $117,000 annual budget, labor-intensive Reading Recovery is used in 11 of the district's 27 elementary schools. Money is the obstacle to its districtwide introduction.

But Kirby believes that Reading Recovery's price may not be as costly as it appears. "Instead of ending up in special education or a Chapter I program for the rest of his life, the child gets out. Yes, the program is expensive, but in the long run it's less expensive than the alternatives," she said.