On Wednesday’s Opinion page, we told you that the Register Star would take an active role in our community’s efforts to improve the reading ability of our schoolchildren.
Our thinking is straightforward: It’s not enough simply to report on the deficit of educational achievement that exists in Rockford, something we’ve done often in recent years. As a thought leader, we’re obligated to be in the forefront of efforts to address the problem.
(And yes, it’s true that a community of readers is essential to the health of any news organization. But that’s not why we’re moved to act.)
Our principal job is to nourish democracy, and a healthy democracy requires a literate public. The First Amendment, with its guarantees of free press and free speech, assumes as much — you can’t exercise those freedoms without a base of knowledge acquired by reading.
With that in mind, here’s an early look at our plan for getting in the game.
Earlier this week, Winnebago County Board Chairman, Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara and other community leaders launched Read 815, a challenge for children to read a book a week until the school year begins. Our initiative seeks to build on Read 815 and promote literacy throughout the year.
We’re calling it “Reading Wednesday,” a once-a-week after-school program that will based at the Hart Interim Library at 214 N. Main St. in Rockford. One or more representatives of the Register Star will be on hand each week to serve as a kind of emcee. We expect to be joined by other community members, and we’ve already started a recruitment drive.
Each week, we’ll introduce children to the library, allow them to select one or two books, then read those books to the group for 20 to 30 minutes. People who hold interesting jobs in the community, and can explain how reading helped them get where they are, will be invited to participate.
Already, we’ve begun talking to likely partners beyond the library, groups like the Rockford Housing Authority and the United Way of Rock River Valley, and we’re reaching out to others.
The RHA’s involvement is a cornerstone of what we’re trying to accomplish. Each week, the RHA will transport children from the Orton Keyes, Blackhawk Courts or Fairgrounds Valley housing developments to the library for Reading Wednesday. The cohorts will rotate, meaning each group of kids will meet at the library once every three weeks. We’re also working with a potential partner to carry on a Reading Wednesday close to home for the kids on Wednesdays if they aren’t at the Hart Library.
Of course, Reading Wednesday is open to any child who’s interested. We won’t turn anyone away.
That’s the heart of the program.
The Register Star is happy to lead the way on Reading Wednesday, but we’re going to need some help, and we’re looking for volunteers. The work — showing kids around the library and reading to them in a group — is straightforward. If you’re willing to help, email us at [email protected]
We think Reading Wednesday has two virtues — beyond helping kids learn to read, that is — that might not be readily apparent.
The first is community ownership. If the project unfolds as we hope, it will attract a broad base of volunteers from the Rockford area — people who understand that the responsibility for educational achievement doesn’t lie solely with the public schools and who believe they can help address the achievement gap. Every volunteer who signs up sends an important message: We got this.
The second virtue is shared experience, the value of which we’ve learned over the years by watching, and participating in, Rockford Sharefest. It’s through shared experiences that we will build relationships and renew community life, one Wednesday at a time.
We plan to launch the project on Sept. 5, the Wednesday after Labor Day, so we’ll be working fast. We’ll share additional details of the project on this page in the weeks ahead.