Skip to main content


A parishioner at my church owns an Arabian horse stables that annually hosts something called The Black Stallion Literacy Program. I imagined a philanthropic and eccentric old lady reigning benevolently over her modest ranch, where a dozen underprivileged kids, each with his own horse and his own caring volunteer, made magic by learning to read. I pictured myself leaning against a haybale, the warm and wriggling body of a frustrated first grader beside me, the two of us on a journey to enlightenment there in the illumination of sunbeams swirling with dust motes.

The reality is much different.

Still, I'm glad I stepped out of my daily routine to volunteer my time to this program. I arrived on a rainy Thursday morning and signed in, then enjoyed half a donut and a cup of coffee from Bruegger's while I chatted up some other volunteers.

We sat for a brief orientation during which I learned that the program is far bigger than I realized, encompassing at least nine states. The program was conceived by Tim Farley and Mark Miller as a sort of legacy to Walter Farley, author of the Black Stallion books.

First-grade children in struggling schools are encouraged to read with an equine connection. The children are each given their own hard-bound copies of two easy-to-read Farley titles. Their teacher receives special training in presenting related activities. The children have a "first contact" experience with a horse brought to their school and introduced as the horse they meet in the book. After a month or so, the children have a "second contact" experience by visiting a stables on a morning field trip. At the stables each class rotates through four different stations where they meet a horse and learn about shoeing, feeding, grooming, and tack from volunteers.

I was assigned to present at a feeding station with another parishioner assigned as the horse handler. Our horse was a big red quarter horse named Tar Baby. Tar Baby looked just like the horse in the book, so we called him Big Red and let the kids believe he was the real deal. I realized that two big arenas each housed two separate presentation lines, totalling four complete rotations. Busses arrived at 10:00 and disgorged nearly 400 students who broke up into 4 different groups, each different group breaking into 4 smaller groups so there were between 20 to 30 students at each of the sixteen stations. They'd whirlwind through in an hour, then get back on the busses and leave before the next round of busses pulled up to disgorge another 400 first graders.

We got 10 minutes with each group. So I did my little Feeding spiel 8 times in a morning, saw the faces of nearly 200 first graders over the course of two hours, encouraged them singly to read a line or two to Big Red, who wasn't the least bit interested.

Most of the children were accomplished readers. Somtimes Big Red paid attention.

Mostly Big Red ate hay. And some of the children couldn't read at all. I observed several interesting coping strategies. Some children would start the word, then look to me for prompting. Some children read just the beginning sounds of the words. One child didn't read a single word on the page but made up his own fluent, imaginative story, complete with dialogue, just from the accompanying pictures.

Each day I left exhausted, wondering just how much of an impact this experience has on children. I realize now that it's just a small component of the whole program.

But I played my part, which is more than I'd done before.


auntie m said…
Maybe Big Red isn't paying attention because he has heard that story so many times before.
Momma_Dee said…
Wow! Pretty impressive. Very impressive she sent everyone a letter.
Ana said…
Just want to say that, although I am sure this is a great program, I prefer your imagination to reality...
Assembly lines are efficient but are, somehow, not human.

Kudos to you for trying something new and cool! You inspire me to stretch!!

Popular posts from this blog

wotd: temporize

temporize \TEM-puh-ryz\, intransitive verb:
1. To be indecisive or evasive in order to gain time or delay action.
2. To comply with the time or occasion; to yield to prevailing opinion or circumstances.
3. To engage in discussions or negotiations so as to gain time (usually followed by 'with').
4. To come to terms (usually followed by 'with').

It's easy to tell yourself that you'll write a daily blog entry using the word of the day from dictionary(dot)com as a prompt, and equally easy to temporize your daily entry by waffling over what to write about, or evading your obligation by procrastination. There. Bedtime.

expanding my culinary horizons

After last night's culinary debacle, today's culinary surprise was particularly welcome. My dear friend Rukmi brought me lunch! Rukmi is Sri Lankan. She cooks the best food. I ate a fish and egg croquette, lentil curry, saffron rice, all with delicious chicken and what I thought might be tuna. I asked Rukmi what the meat was, and she told me it's all chicken. "The flat, triangular meat? With the spices? Is it tuna?"

She laughed lightly. "That's a wegetable," she said, in her lovely Sinhalese way.

"Oh, yeah? Like a beet?" That made sense, because it flaked like tuna steak or like beets might.

"It is jackfruit."

Jackfruit? Jackfruit! I ate jackfruit today. Rukmi told me all about it: she used canned young jackfruit she bought at G & L Market on 22nd St.; fully grown jackfruits are gigantic and if one fell on your head it could kill you. When fully ripe, jackfruit is full of big pods that each have a seed in the middle, like a po…

the more things change...

So many reasons it's been a long time since we took the boys out thrift store shopping. Yesterday, Tuesday, both of us had a full day off to spend as we pleased.

First we ate at Chaffin's Diner. They seated us in the less-dinery back room, which ended up being a good thing because we sat directly beneath a fan and didn't notice so much the heat. E drank decaff coffee with cream. I didn't notice sugar. Decaff, like his Uncle D. Coffee, like his Mimi.

We hit Shop for a Cause first, where the boys found nothing and subsequently sulked.

Next we pulled into the Humane Society Thrift Store, which I haven't visited in a long time. Historically I haven't found anything there.

Today we hit the treasure jackpot.

A $2 Ziploc bag containing the comprehensive plastic presidential contingent from Washington through Eisenhower.

Of course E had them ordered in a matter of moments.

Finally we escaped the store with a trove of treasures (more than I've found in one place in …