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"Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers" Returns to PBS with New Episodes

Award-Winning Series Examines How Children Learn To Read and Offers New Hope to Those Who Struggle

Washington, D.C. - Two new episodes of the award-winning LAUNCHING YOUNG READERS series premiere on PBS in the spring of 2005. "Empowering Parents," hosted by NBC's Al Roker, offers an action plan for parents who suspect their child may be struggling to read. "Becoming Bilingual," hosted by acclaimed actress Rita Moreno, examines the challenges of teaching English Language Learners to read.

READING ROCKETS: LAUNCHING YOUNG READERS was created to equip parents, grandparents, caregivers and educators to help the children in their lives learn to read. The award-winning, seven-part series explores the stages of learning to read, using the latest research and featuring the country's top reading experts.

"Nearly 40 percent of children have difficulty learning to read," says Noel Gunther, executive director of Reading Rockets. "'Empowering Parents' is designed to show parents how to recognize risk factors and problems, and more importantly, how to help their child."

"Empowering Parents" visits schools in Huntingtown, Maryland, and Portland, Oregon, to outline the warning signs that indicate a child may have difficulties and shows why early intervention is so important. The program features experts Rick Lavoie; Dr. Julie Washington, University of Michigan; Dr. Roland Good, University of Oregon; and Dr. Guinevere Eden, Georgetown Medical School.

"Becoming Bilingual" examines the daunting prospect many teachers face with a classroom of students who speak another language. "Becoming Bilingual" visits schools and programs in El Paso, Texas; Arlington, Virginia; Long Beach, California; Chicago, Illinois; Washington, D.C.; and Woodburn, Oregon, to highlight the different ways schools are working to create bilingual readers.

"Many teachers feel overwhelmed because they have little or no training teaching ELLs," says Christian Lindstrom, Reading Rockets' senior producer. "But by using techniques that are good, basic teaching techniques and capitalizing on the children's strengths in their native language, teachers can go a long way toward being successful with the changing population in U.S. schools."

LAUNCHING YOUNG READERS also includes a special episode targeted toward kids. READING ROCKS! is a splashy PBS special designed to appeal to struggling readers and also helps parents and teachers understand the emotional impact that reading difficulties can have on the children in their lives.

The READING ROCKS! special premiered on PBS in 2004, hosted by the Disney Channel's Nick Spano ("Even Stevens"). The buoyant 30-minute program encourages struggling readers to keep trying, using wacky humor to offer stories of hope to children who are trying to learn to read.

"This series is the essence of Reading Rockets' mission to help children become better readers," says Reading Rockets executive director Noel Gunther. "We use literacy experts and proven research to illuminate the mechanics of reading and also highlight authors and illustrators to show how children's literature is critical to the reading process."

Each episode of LAUNCHING YOUNG READERS is hosted by a celebrity and profiles the creative process of a children's book author or illustrator. The series was shot in more than 40 elementary schools, preschools and community centers in 17 states nationwide. Sites include the legendary Lab School of Washington, D.C., which specializes in teaching students with learning disabilities, and Mark Hopkins Elementary School in Sacramento, California, where children speak six different languages in one kindergarten class.

LAUNCHING YOUNG READERS Episode Lineup:

* "The Roots of Reading" visits a "baby speech lab" and a Head Start center to examine the earliest stages of literacy. The program shows how parents, childcare providers and kindergarten teachers can get children started on the road to literacy. Hosted by the late Fred Rogers ("Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"), the episode features author Rosemary Wells (Timothy Goes to School)

* "Sounds and Symbols" focuses on the two skills every child needs to decode the printed word: phonemic awareness (understanding that words are made up of individual sounds represented by letters) and phonics (learning the relationship between particular letters and their sounds). Hosted by actress Annette Bening, the episode features Norman Bridwell (Clifford the Big Red Dog).

* "Fluent Reading" explores the ability to decode quickly and achieve fluency. The program also demonstrates how early testing and intervention can help struggling readers. Hosted by television anchor Deborah Norville, the episode features author William Joyce (George Shrinks).

* "Writing and Spelling" examines the connection between reading and writing and between spelling and composition. The program features successful methods for encouraging children to write and to build their vocabularies. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes), the episode features author Walter Dean Myers (Harlem).

* "Reading for Meaning" highlights effective strategies to help kids understand - and care about - what they read. Hosted by actress Vivica A. Fox, the episode features Kate Duke (Aunt Isabel Tells a Good One).

* "Empowering Parents" helps parents identify early signs of reading problems and find ideas for getting their kids the help and support they need. Hosted by NBC's Al Roker, episode six features Rick Lavoie (How Difficult Can This Be?).

* "Becoming Bilingual" examines the challenges of teaching children to read in a new language and showcases different ways schools are working to create bilingual readers. Hosted by acclaimed actress Rita Moreno, episode seven features bilingual poet Francisco Alarcón (Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates Risuenos y otros poemas de primavera).

"Empowering Parents," "Becoming Bilingual" and READING ROCKS! are available for viewing in their entirety online. All seven episodes of the series and the special are available for purchase on DVD and VHS through the Reading Rockets online store by calling 1-800-343-5540.

The original five-part LAUNCHING YOUNG READERS series first aired on PBS in 2002 and includes a resource-packed Web site at for parents and teachers who want to learn more.

LAUNCHING YOUNG READERS is part of an ongoing WETA initiative called Reading Rockets, which looks at how young children learn to read, why so many kids struggle and what can be done about it. Reading Rockets is funded primarily by a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

The series has won many awards, including four Silver Statuettes and a Bronze Statuette from the 24th Annual Telly Awards and a First Place Gold Camera award from the 36th Annual International Film and Video Festival. READING ROCKS! won the 2004 Parents' Choice Silver Honor Award.

The first five episodes of LAUNCHING YOUNG READERS are a co-production of WETA Washington, D.C., and Rubin Tarrant Productions. The READING ROCKS! special, "Empowering Parents" and "Becoming Bilingual" episodes are productions of Reading Rockets. Executive producer: Noel Gunther. Producer: Christian Lindstrom. Co-producer: Keisha Dyson.

WETA is the third-largest producing station in the PBS system and the flagship public broadcaster in the nation's capital. Among WETA's productions and presentations are "Washington Week," "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" and "Globe Trekker." WETA is co-producer of documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including "The Civil War" and "JAZZ." WETA's educational services include www.LDOnLine.org, the leading national Web site on learning disabilities for parents, teachers and other professionals. Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO of WETA. For more information on WETA, please visit www.weta.org.

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