Dummerston student sets reading record
DUMMERSTON -- The check marks beside Clairexiuyi Smith's reading goals tell a story: She started with 20 books for the year, then 60, 150, 220 and beyond.
Eventually, the Dummerston School fourth-grader plowed through 560 books -- all in the current school year.
It's a school record made all the more impressive by the fact that the 10-year-old recently overcame a vision problem that had made it difficult to get through even brief written passages.
"That's what makes this thing that she did feel even more important -- because she really couldn't read anything with more than a sentence on it without starting to feel sick," said Clairexiuyi's mother, Kari Smith.
"I really felt like she was making up for lost time," she added.
Clairexiuyi's struggles had become progressively worse, with schoolwork often leading to physical symptoms such as headaches and dizziness.
"She was literally getting carsick when she tried to read," her mother recalled. "It was all a mystery for all of us."
Finally, a specialist diagnosed a vision problem that led to months of therapy: Clairexiuyi had to retrain her brain and eyes to read text on a page.
"She dedicated herself to her vision therapy, which was not easy. She did daily exercises," her mother said.
That therapy ended just around the time that the 2011-12 school year concluded. And when classes reconvened last fall, Clairexiuyi (pronounced Claire-show-ee) was assigned to a literacy block led by Dummerston teacher Teri Robinson, who challenges her students to immerse themselves in the printed word.
"The reason I do it is, I want them to get into the habit of reading every night and loving books," Robinson said.
Clairexiuyi did just that, and more.
"I would just get a pile of books and read until I was done," she said, adding that she fairly quickly was forced to seek new sources for reading material.
"I started finding them at my house, and then I ran out," Clairexiuyi said.
That led to weekly trips to the Putney Library. Kari Smith and her husband, Paul, were more than happy to accommodate Clairexiuyi's newfound passion for reading -- but they don't take much credit for it.
"She did this on her own -- I didn't put any pressure on her to do this," her mother said. "She is driven. When she gets a goal, she's determined."
The result of that determination is a thick coil of yellow, green and orange note cards, with each card representing a book Clairexiuyi read during the 2012-13 school year.
The students explore a variety of genres, but she most preferred fantasy stories.
"I like the adventure of it," Clairexiuyi said.
Robinson said the daily, year-long literacy block allows her to focus on the reading preferences and learning needs of a small group of students. But she acknowledges that Clairexiuyi went above and beyond the program's normal goals.
"The dedication was there. It was amazing," Robinson said.
Kari Smith credits the veteran teacher -- Robinson has taught for 34 years -- with helping her daughter reach and surpass her goals while "gaining confidence that she could do this."
And she believes Clairexiuyi has developed a positive habit that will continue outside the classroom.
"I am very proud of her," she said. "I believe she will absolutely keep reading. I don't know if it will be at this pace."
As for the immediate future, with summer vacation quickly approaching, Clairexiuyi has a goal.
"I'm going to take a break," she said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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