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Suddenly, Wade can read Progress: Learning comes to children in different ways, at different paces. For one 6-year-old, it's a leap-frog process.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

His parents see the change every time he plops down on the floor with a book. His teacher notices it when he eagerly raises his hand to sound out an unfamiliar word. Even Wade realizes that something has happened to him in Room 8 this school year.

"I'm reading," he says, flashing a crooked grin as he looks up from a book about dinosaurs. "I know the words."

It's a brand new world for 6-year-old Wade Humphrey.

Suddenly, almost as if by magic, the letters all around are starting to make sense. They mean something. They're words.

P-I-G. Pig. S-T-O-P. Stop. F-L-A-V-O-R. Flavor.

On the road to cracking the code of reading at Reisterstown's Cedarmere Elementary School, many of Wade's first-grade classmates inch forward day after day. Others take large steps once a week.

And a few simply broad jump. They stand still for what seems like forever and then -- just when it looks as though they'll never make any progress -- they take huge leaps, often surpassing everyone else.

For the first couple of months, it wasn't quite clear where Wade fit in. He just didn't seem to care about most things having to do with reading or learning.

When the rest of the class sat on the room's blue carpet to practice the "short a," Wade would often choose to remain at his desk or wander elsewhere in the room.

It was a struggle for teacher Sheri Blum just to get him to try to sound out a word as simple as "mad." Sometimes, he did the handwriting work sheets and read the short stories of Room 8. Sometimes, he didn't.

When desks were assigned randomly the start of the year, Wade ended up closest to the door. At the end of the first term, he was one of a handful of students who didn't want to swap positions.

"I like where I am," he said. "I can be first in line to go."

The only thing consistent about Wade for the first two months of school was the aqua-blue, hooded sweat shirt he wore to school every day. Like a security blanket, he refused to take it off even on the sweltering days of late August and early September.

Afternoons and evenings were no different. Homework was done with great reluctance at the kitchen table. Books were read to Wade, rather than by him. Reading was a chore interfering with cartoons and "Giga Pets."

At the beginning of first grade, there was little question Wade knew his letters. The alphabet hangs on a wall in the bedroom he shares with his 4 1/2 -year-old sister Heather, and he easily satisfied Blum when she checked whether he could identify that "f" makes the "fuh" sound and "j" makes the "juh" sound.

But something wasn't happening. As Room 8 moved forward, Wade didn't seem to be moving with everyone else. It wasn't a matter of ability, but of will.

His parents, Crystal and Jim, refused to give in. Blum also wouldn't write him off, rebuffing a suggestion from other teachers that Wade ought to be moved down to a lower first-grade class.

"Even when he didn't want to read, we'd let him go for a little while and then try to come back at it again," says his father, a regional salesman for a Pennsylvania ice-cream maker.

Deep down, Wade's parents hoped their son would come around to reading as he had come around to lots of other pursuits.

When the family bought a trampoline, Wade jumped up and down, over and over, perfecting his flips. Last spring, he developed a smooth left-handed batting swing by clobbering Wiffle Balls over the backyard fence every chance he got.

Wade once refused to go to bed until he had solved a math puzzle on the family's computer, staying up past midnight, determined to get it right.

Even when he's watching cartoons with Heather and his other sister, 18-month-old Lindsay, he's totally focused on the

television. He labels himself a "couch potato" for the hours he wishes he could spend with the Cartoon Network.

"With Wade, it's all or nothing," says his mother. "If he's into it, he dives all of the way in until he gets it right. But if he's not ready for it or doesn't want to do it, there's nothing you can do."

Suddenly, right around Halloween, Wade went from nothing to all in reading. "It was like overnight, the light switch turned on and he started reading everywhere we went," his father says.

And in Room 8, every activity became another chance to show off how much had been learned. Unwilling to sit on the sidelines any more, Wade began to jump in at every turn.

"Pig, fit, sit," he says with the 21 other first-graders sitting on the room's blue carpet and learning the "short i" sound. Wade's so eager that he's a beat ahead of the rest of the class, and Blum finally has to ask him to slow down.

In Wade's new world, the red signs at street intersections have become "stop signs" not because Dad stops his pickup at them but because that's what they say.

The family eats pizza during a Friday night outing because he can read the restaurant sign that says "Pizza Hut."

Even the secret language used by parents of young children has finally been broken in the Humphrey home. "They can't spell around me any more, because I know what they're saying," he says, thrusting his chest forward.

A deal Wade made with his mother at the start of the school year is getting expensive. Crystal Humphrey, a part-time auditor, promised to keep buying him books as long as he kept reading what she bought. It's now running $10 to $20 every couple of weeks.

At Cedarmere's recent book fair, Wade even picked out the most expensive book in the display -- a $20 hardcover profiling U.S. presidents -- and his mother bought it with barely a hesitation.

"I could spend the same amount on taking the kids to the movies," she says. "If he wants to read now, why would I even think about saying no?"

But at home, Wade's entry into the world of reading is perhaps most starkly apparent in how he keeps track of his nightly reading.

Until a few weeks ago, it was up to his mother, father or the baby sitter to sign the calendar on the refrigerator door if the evening's reading had been done. Now, Wade signs his own initials, "WH."

"Before, they were reading to me," he says. "I'm the one reading to them now. I get to sign it now."

Pub Date: 12/18/98

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