We have all dreamed at some point about being a celebrity, a professional athlete, or maybe even a rock star. For most of us, we can only dream these thoughts of stardom. To be a famous musician, you have to be a master of your craft as a singer or guitar player. You have put in a lot of time and effort into practicing and at some point you were the beneficiary of some good luck. What if I told you that you could treated like a rock star even if you cannot sing or play an instrument? How would it feel to be treated like a celebrity? Like someone special? I can tell you from experience that it is a great feeling. I can also tell you that I have no musical talent and I cannot carry a tune. How can I be a rock star if I am not a musician? It is very simple. I went into an elementary school and spent time reading to a class of children.
I am participating in Learn United’s Real Men Read program. Learn United is United Way of Allen County’s education initiative and it is focused on engaging the community to support children’s success in literacy, learning, and life. The Real Men Read program was created to close the reading gap that exists among the third grade students in our schools. Many studies show that children who cannot read at the appropriate grade level by third grade will never catch up. They will always be behind causing additional learning concerns, barriers, and eventually failure. Real Men Read focuses on putting male readers in second and third grade classrooms to show young boys that reading is important. As a “Real Man”, I will go into a second grade classroom once a month for five months during this school year. I will read a book to the class during my visit and engage them in discussion about the story, the author, and any lessons learned. At the end of each class each student gets a copy of the book to take home. This helps the child to build a library at home. Many of those who cannot read at their grade level do not have access to books at home due to family situations like poverty. Putting a book in a child’s hand will empower them to read at home and build the capabilities needed to improve.
I had the opportunity recently to go into the school for the first time this year. I am reading at Adams Elementary in Fort Wayne for the fourth consecutive year. It is a school located in an area where poverty is evident and a large percentage of the students are on the free lunch program. I am reading to Mrs. Craig’s second grade class and I was very excited to get started. I had no idea what I was about to experience as I entered the room. Upon arrival, the students stared at me like I had three eyes and four arms. Who is this stranger in our classroom? I introduced myself and stated my purpose for the visit. They all sat around me on the floor as we talked. I really tried to engage the students in conversation before we started. We talked about our favorite cartoons, our pets, and our favorite foods just to name a few of the topics discussed. The book selection for this month was “Ish” by Peter H. Reynolds. As I read the story I showed them the illustrations and paused to ask questions about what was happening. The students listened very attentively to my every word and really enjoyed the story. After we completed the reading, I handed out books one by one to the students. In exchange for the book, I was to receive a high-five from each student. I pretended that they were hurting my hand causing each student to swing just a little bit harder. We all laughed and smiled as I handed out the books. I had handed out the last book and was getting ready to leave when one boy came up to me, tugged on my pant leg, and asked me to autograph his book. I paused for a minute and then realized that the entire class was now in line to have their book signed. A book that I did not write. It touched my heart that they wanted my autograph. I took a few minutes and signed each book. After my signature, I wrote “Learn to Love to Read” in an effort to remind them about the importance of reading. I hope to use that phrase during my other visits in the coming months.
I only spent fifty minutes with the class. In that time, I went from a complete stranger to someone special. Why? Because I took some time out of my schedule and invested it in them. For that fifty minutes, they were the most important thing to me and they knew it. I will never know the true impact my readings have on the class, but I know the impact the students had on me. Their actions also proved that you do not have to give up your life to make a difference. Love to a child is spelled T-I-M-E. It doesn’t matter how much you give. Give some, give any, and you will understand.
You can visit www.learnunited.org to learn more about Learn United’s programs. There are schools filled with children all over the world. Find one close to your home and make a difference. The next time you are dreaming about headlining your own rock concert, remember that you CAN be a rock star. Open a book and read to kids!