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Last year, robot books were all the rage at Kairos-PDX, a Portland charter school that serves primarily children of color, many of them from low-income households. And not science fiction robots, but books about real robots, made by real engineers.

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“They want to learn it, they want to understand it, they want to digest it,” says Elizabeth Large, a 47-year-old volunteer reader and former chair of SMART’s board of directors. “That is a love of reading. It’s not unique to value literacy, but I liked the idea of just one-on-one helping kids to read.”

SMART, an acronym for Start Making A Reader Today, is a 25-year-old nonprofit that pairs students identified as in need of help with adult volunteers to help create confident, grade-level readers. When not spending time reading at schools, parenting her two children, or working as a lawyer, Large serves on SMART’s board, meeting with donors and working to expand the program’s cultural diversity.

“I had a kindergartner at King Elementary a couple of years ago who was really behind where she needed to be in terms of letter recognition,” she says. “But she paid attention to every word. She was so focused. And she picks the books and she understands what’s happening even though she’s not reading—that is early literacy.”

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