LYNWOOD — At exactly 10:04 a.m. and in plain view of his photography instructor, 17-year-old Frank Parker put his textbook aside and began reading a comic strip from a local newspaper.
"Luann is funny. It is one of my favorites," said the Lynwood High School student.
In the same advanced photography class, 16-year-old Susan McKellar was reading the novel "A Time to Love and a Time to Mourn," which had absolutely nothing to do with photography.
"This is a book about a guy with an incurable disease. He doesn't have very long to live," McKellar said.
Instead of objecting to the outside reading, photography instructor Saul Skolnick wore a broad smile of approval.
Everyone Reads at Once
Parker and McKellar, along with the other students in the classroom, were participating in the school's Silent Sustained Reading program.
In fact, at that very moment, the entire campus of 2,944 students as well as administrators, teachers and some non-teaching personnel were reading.
"Everybody reads--the students, the secretaries, the teachers, the administrators--everybody," Principal Larry C. Tripplett said.
Silent sustained reading begins at 10:04 a.m. daily and continues for 24 minutes. The time is not taken away from regular instruction, but was created by extending the school day.
Tripplett said he started the program this year to help the students at Lynwood High School, the Lynwood Unified School District's only high school, improve their overall academic performances.
"Everything starts with reading. If the students read well, they will do better in other subjects," said Tripplett, 35, who has been the school's principal since April.
Formerly an assistant principal at South Pasadena High School, Tripplett also hopes the reading project along with other academic programs will result in a big cash payoff for the school.
Like other high schools in the state, Lynwood High is eligible to participate in the state Department of Education's "dollars for scholars" Education Improvement Incentive Program.
The program, which was launched last school year, offers cash awards to high schools showing overall improvement in the California Assessment Program (CAP) tests of basic skills.
In April, when state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig announced the winning schools, 530 of California's 1,142 high schools won cash awards. In the Southeast-Long Beach area, test scores improved enough to give cash awards ranging from $10,821 at Mayfair High School in Lakewood to $71,846 at Cerritos High. The money can be spent for almost any purpose except to pay salaries or hire new staff members.
Not Enough Participation
But Lynwood was out of the money. Not only did its scores show mixed results--reading improved while scores in math, spelling and written expression dropped slightly--but fewer than the required 93% of seniors took the test.
(CAP tests will be given again in December. While only seniors participate in the incentive program, it is also required of all third-, sixth- and eighth-graders.)
Tripplett said he wants to get Lynwood High in the winning column. Besides reading, the high school has instituted a number of other programs.
At the beginning of this semester in September, Tripplett said parents were invited to an orientation assembly at which goals for the school year were announced.
"More than 400 parents showed up, proving that parents in this community, which is less affluent than some others, care about what happens to their children," Tripplett said.
In addition to the reading program, new projects include improving writing skills, beginning Latin, tutorial programs sponsored by local colleges and "test-wiseness" techniques to teach students how to be successful in taking tests.
Secretary Reads, Too
Meanwhile, as the 24-minute period came to an end for that day, Tripplett's secretary, D. Joyce Edner was finishing her reading of "Discipline of the Christian Methodist-Episcopal Church," a book on church doctrines.
"Everyone loves the reading program--teachers, classified personnel, everyone. I read every day," Edner said.
Student Sean Parran, 17, offered another testimony to the program's popularity and effectiveness.
"I never read before. I never had time. I work as a supermarket clerk from 4 p.m. to midnight," said Parran, a senior who intends to major in business in college.
"I now buy a newspaper every day to have something to read during silent reading. I read it, especially the business section, every day. I think reading is helping in all of my subjects."