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Read Across America events

Massachusetts literacy champion Jason Varitek read to a group of kids at the Red Sox Spring Training Facility in Ft. Myers and taped a literacy public service announcement  for the Massachusetts Teachers Association as part of the NEA's Read Across America program, March 1. 
 
Varitek talked with the kids about the importance of literacy skills and read 86 Years: The Legend of the Boston Red Sox. The book, which was written by Melinda Boroson and illustrated by Gary Phillips, chronicles the Sox' 86-year quest for a world championship.
 
"Literacy is really the key to everything in life because you have to read to learn," said Varitek. 
 
The nation's largest reading celebration included local activities that encourage children of all ages to read throughout the year.  Read Across America activities culminate every year on what would have been Dr. (Theodor Geisel) Seuss' birthday. 
 
Teachers across Massachusetts participated in their own celebrations. There were pajama parties in libraries, birthday bashes in bookstores and read-a-thons. Children read with police officers, firefighters, nurses, judges and journalists, as well as professional sports figures and celebrities.
 
For the last five years, the Boston Red Sox have teamed up with Verizon  and the Massachusetts Teachers Association to encourage kids to read more than a million books through the MTA Red Sox Reading Game. Kids who pledge to read nine books over the summer can enter a contest to win tickets to a game at Fenway Park.
 
"It's never too late to pick up a book and read to a child. Combining books and baseball has been a grand slam for literacy," said MTA President Catherine A. Boudreau.

Party with a purpose

The National Education Association's Read Across America Day was a party with a purpose that brought together celebrities, athletes, politicians, education leaders and other notable public figures for a very special cause:  to bring the gift of reading to children who have been affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.
 
Michelle Williams, vocalist and former member of the Grammy-award winning vocal group Destiny's Child, was on hand with NEA President Reg Weaver to read Dr. Seuss classics to more than 1,000 elementary students at St. Bernard Unified School.  The public school is the only fully operational school in the parish after Hurricane Katrina decimated the New Orleans area last year.  Joining Williams were New Orleans Saints quarterback Adrian McPherson and wide receiver Nate Poole, athletes from Loyola University, politicians from both sides of the aisle and other local celebrities.
 
"We decided to set off on a reading tour through the Gulf Coast as a way to give back to communities that were devastated by the hurricanes last summer and fall," said Weaver.  "As millions of schoolchildren rediscover the joy of reading, we wanted to ensure that those who have lost so much were also in the company of a good book."
 
Beginning February 27, three "Cat-A-Vans" kicked off in Baton Rouge, La., Beaumont, Texas, and Biloxi, Miss., to bring books back to Gulf Coast schools.  NEA's Reading Tour 2006 throughout the Gulf Coast states covered over 2,700 miles, delivered approximately 14,000 books, and visited more than 20,000 schoolchildren.
 
The weeklong tour culminated March 1 in the town of Chalmette, located in St. Bernard Parish, which largely has been missed by the media spotlight to its higher-profile New Orleans neighbor. Of more than 13 schools in the parish, the former high school has ballooned in size and become a unified school, housing more than 1,600 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12.
 
During the Reading Tour 2006, NEA's Read Across America joined forces with NEA's Books Across America—a nationwide program launched last month and aimed at providing books to public schools and students in need—to deliver a much needed supply of new books and money to more than 40 public schools in more than 26 Gulf Coast Cities.  Book donations were made possible by the generous donations of The Heart of America Foundation and First Book, partner organizations of the new Books Across America program.
 
First Book provided every child in each school visited with a new book, while The Heart of America Foundation donated new library books for all the schools involved in the Reading Tour.  In addition, The Heart of America Foundation will be pairing up NEA member schools in other parts of the country with Gulf Coast public schools to help provide them with new books.  NEA member schools will achieve this through organizing book drives and coordinating fundraisers throughout the year.
 
"Gulf Coast public school libraries are still in desperate need of new books and supplies, six months after the devastating hurricanes," said NEA President Reg Weaver.  "Bringing books back to these schools and students who have lost so much is a top priority for NEA.  We are engaging our 2.8 million members and people nationwide to do everything they can to help rebuild Gulf Coast public school libraries."
 
Read Across America—the only event that will get teachers, principals and school employees to dye their hair blue, cook up a breakfast of green eggs and ham, or be duct-taped to a wall if it boosts their students' enthusiasm to read—calls on every community from coast to coast to celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday through reading motivation and awareness.  Sponsored by NEA, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., and more than 50 partner organizations on the national level, the award-winning literacy program also provides resources and activities needed to keep reading on the calendar 365 days a year.
 
NEA's efforts to restock Gulf Coast public libraries will continue beyond its Reading Tour 2006.  Millions of individuals nationwide are expected to join the program by donating money and new books, fundraising, organizing book drives and volunteering their time to deliver books.
 
Along with its partners—The NEA Foundation, First Book and The Heart of America Foundation—Books Across America is offering a number of way individuals can help out, including the following: 

  • The NEA Foundation is collecting monetary contributions to provide directly to public schools so they can replenish their materials.
  • Through First Book, individuals can buy specific books for children to read at home. First Book is also offering several opportunities for volunteers to help get even more books into the hands of children.
  • The Heart of America Foundation is spearheading book drives to get books to public school libraries and classrooms.  They are also providing information to volunteers on how to organize their own drives. 

NEA's Reading Tour 2006 is the organization's second action aimed at providing hurricane relief.  In September 2005, immediately following Hurricane Katrina, the association set up a Hurricane Relief Fund for students, teachers and school employees affected by the hurricane.  In addition, NEA provided $500,000 in direct aid, set up a toll-free helpline for Gulf Coast school employees and created the NEA Adopt-a-School Program to match donors with schools and classrooms

For more information about MTA's programs, visit readingmatters.org.