Back-to-school season hasn't gone unnoticed by cable operators: To help encourage local grade school teachers and students to participate in California Gov. Gray Davis's reading award program, Time Warner Cable's Los Angeles division plans to introduce its "Reading Counts" program on Sept. 1.
Central to the initiative is a new Web site (www.Access-TimeWarner.com/ReadingCounts) that allows students to log how much time they've spent reading and how many pages they've read.
Before the online tracking system was developed, teachers that took part in the governor's program — which awards schools with cash grants to encourage literacy — were required to keep written logs of their students' daily reading habits.
Time Warner Los Angeles division educational outreach coordinator Gail Toth developed the Web site based on her experience as a parent of a "soon-to-be third grader."
Time Warner's L.A. division serves roughly 400 schools with students in Kindergarten through eighth grade. Only public schools are eligible to take part in the governor's program, but private schools can get involved in Time Warner's effort, which runs through April.
The cable operator will also issue prizes of its own, including class parties for each month's top performers and a year-end book endowment for the school with the best overall record.
The reading Web site will be password-protected so only teachers may change the hours and page counts each student logs in — and so competing schools can't track each other's tallies.
Students who don't have Internet access at home will be encouraged to log their hours at the school's computer lab or at a local library, where Time Warner plans to post signs promoting the program. In addition, the cable operator is running cross-channel spots to promote the initiative to students, parents and teachers.
L.A.-based ad agency SCDRG Inc. helped develop the logo for Reading Counts, as well as some of the marketing concepts.
Aside from tracking pages read and hours logged, the Web site will ask students for the titles and authors of books they've read and use that data to offer book recommendations for each grade level.
"Ultimately, we'd like to do online author chats," Toth said.
The Reading Counts Web site will not include advertising. Scholastic Books, which is providing some of the prizes, agreed to forego mention of its name on the Web site, Toth said.
Scholastic may also lend costumed character Clifford the Big Red Dog to some of the monthly class parties for the younger grades, she added.
Toth hopes Time Warner's Reading Counts program will help boost the number of schools that participate in the governor's initiative by making it easier on parents and teachers. If the online program proves successful, it could be expanded throughout the state.