For students at Yale, reading for pleasure is often a distant memory, a hobby abandoned amid the onslaught of papers, textbook readings and problem sets they endure each semester. But for first-grade students at the John S. Martinez School in Fair Haven, an initiative sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has fostered renewed enthusiasm for reading.

DeLauro visited John S. Martinez School on Oct. 31 to introduce students to her Rosa’s Readers program, which has promoted reading in elementary schools across Connecticut’s 3rd congressional district for 17 years. The initiative encourages students to read at least 20 books in a three-month period, at the end of which DeLauro holds a recognition ceremony. During the ceremony, participants receive certificates and a bookmark, according to DeLauro’s outreach coordinator, Allison Dodge.

“I want the school to be a showcase for literacy [and a] love for reading,” said John S. Martinez School Principal Luis Menacho. “It opens so many doors.”

The event started with Menacho describing his own love of reading to the students. Afterwards, DeLauro spoke about her passion for books, before reading aloud Lucille Colandro’s fall-themed picture book “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves!”

The program launched in 2000, and since then DeLauro has visited dozens of schools in the 25 municipalities of the congressional district she represents to introduce the program to first-graders. According to Dodge, many students read more than just 20 books. In fact, since the project’s inception, more than 8,000 children have read a combined total of more than 150,000 books.

The process for introducing the initiative at John S. Martinez School started when Menacho received an email from DeLauro’s office.

According to Menacho, administrators and teachers at the school were so excited about the program that they now want to expand it to all grades of the school, which serves students from kindergarten to eighth grade.

The first-graders also expressed enthusiasm for the program, which Menacho attributed to both DeLauro’s passion and young children’s natural tendencies.

“Children are naturally very curious. They are really like little scientists, and everything is new to them,” said Carla Horwitz, the director emerita of Yale’s Calvin Hill Day Care Center and a lecturer at Yale’s Education Studies Program, Psychology Department and the Yale Child Study Center.

According to Horwitz, competitions based on how many books young students can read do not necessarily help children who are not already strong readers learn to love reading.

“Being able to share a book with somebody and talk about it and point out the words that you know and what’s happening in the story based on the pictures — all of that is the kind of thing that helps children love to read,” Horwitz said.

The initiative lets parents keep track of their children’s reading logs, thus involving caretakers in the process.

“We’re trying to connect our families and involve them in the educational experience that the kids are receiving,” Menacho said. “What better way than having family members read to their children and help monitor the progress in this reading initiative?”

According to Common Sense Media — a nonprofit organization that provides media education to families — children from the ages of 3 to 5 spend an average of an hour and 26 minutes reading for pleasure each week, while children aged 6 to 8 spend an hour and nine minutes. Students between the ages of 15 and 18, on the other hand, spend an average of only 21 minutes per week reading books for pleasure.

John S. Martinez School is one of 32 elementary and middle schools in New Haven Public Schools.

Nathalie Bussemaker |