It would seem like the 21st century poses new challenges to engaging young readers and overcoming the (unfortunately growing) reading gap between lower and higher income students, and in getting kids to develop their readings skills past the fourth grade level. The Internet and various other technologies, from Television to iPads, have been decried as distracting, or even actively discouraging reading in new and dangerous ways.

But that isn’t true. Students, at least those in public schools, have always had numerous distractions that could interfere in the learning process. From having to work on the farm at home or in factories after school, to the radio and family obligations to, yes, video games and TV. Educators have always faced distractions and funding issues and just getting kids engaged.

Reading Rainbow, which is widely lauded as a huge success and was a valuable took in getting kids to read while it aired on PBS, has recently made a big come back in the 21st century. LeVar Burton has been spearheading a lot of new, innovative programs to reach kids and help them learn to read in the new “digital” age. Recently, Reading Rainbow teamed up with the University of Southern California’s Joint Education Project, providing college age mentors with tools to help them teach “at-risk” kids how to read, and how to improve their reading skills.

They’re using the new Skybrary School from Reading Rainbow, a digital library that provides books, video field trips, and other media on demand. Armed with a vast array of books, USC students can find something to engage any student, for significantly cheaper than maintaining a library something that, sadly, isn’t always the highest priority or best funded part of many lower income school.

The trick, as Reading Rainbow first taught us over 30 years ago, is that new technology isn’t the enemy of reading, but a tool to help engage kids and help educate them.

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