January 08, 2002 11:00 pm

Willow Elementary School in La Grande will not participate directly in the Start Making A Reader Today (SMART) program.

The reason: it already has a successful reading program that is modeled after SMART.

Willows reading buddy program has been in place for three years. Adult buddy volunteers read to children in kindergarten through third grade. Some older

Willow students are also involved in the program.

Willow Principal Charlotte McLaughlin credits Sandy Young of La Grande with playing an important role in getting the program started. Reading buddies has been sustained because of people like Irene Froyd, a volunteer who helps coordinate the program.

Willow has about 15 adult reading volunteers, who McLaughlin said have been the heart of the program.

Our volunteers have been wonderful. They almost never miss a session, McLaughlin said.

She said that many volunteers are kind enough to send cards to their reading buddies when they cannot come.

They are taking the time to invest in their lives, McLaughlin said.

Willow reading specialist Phyllis Hart said the schools reading volunteers are recognized by almost everyone at the school because they have been coming so long.

They are an integral and wonderful part of our school, Hart said.

Willows volunteer readers include La Grande School District Superintendent Dan Arriola.