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Everyone Has Role in Reading Push

Susan Notes: This sounds like a remarkable, doable plan: What irony: business are to establish reading corners--at the same time schools, under federal Reading First strictures, are dismantling them. Irony aside, this is a joyful plan.

Everyone has role in reading push

A city that reads is a better city.

It is as simple and as complicated as that.

Reading, whether it is a great work of literature or a help wanted ad, improves a community one person at a time.

For nearly three years, Akron leaders have been brainstorming this notion.

How can we improve literacy here? How can we assist what is already a primary goal for teachers, parents and tutors? How can people who love reading inspire people who don't? How can people who read well help people who don't?

How can we share the responsibility?

This discussion began in early 2001, after Mayor Don Plusquellic asked the Summit Education Initiative to bring representatives of other communities to Akron to share stories about how they'd made an impact on education. A group of about 20 local leaders then began to focus on the literacy problem.

Led by Akron Children's Hospital President Bill Considine and the Rev. Ronald Fowler of Arlington Church of God, the newly formed Education Leadership Roundtable was charged with studying the state of reading in Akron. The group engaged others in the community, raising questions and seeking solutions.

The result of that wide-ranging discussion is the This City Reads! program. On Jan. 14, Akron will launch a bold, open-ended campaign to make us ``a city that reads'' and make Akron the ``reading capital of the world.'' Beyond the slogans is an intent to groom the civic culture so literacy becomes the bedrock for an improved way of life.

This is as ambitious and as difficult as it sounds. That's why the campaign needs you.

For the next 10 days, you'll be reading stories in the Akron Beacon Journal about the state of literacy in our city. You'll be hearing discussion all over town about the challenges we face in our schools and elsewhere, and about the successes This City Reads! hopes to build upon.

At the end of the 10 days, therewill be a citywide reading event. Akron will try to establish itself as the reading capital by stopping for 30 minutes from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Jan. 14 to read.

At local businesses, libraries, schools, private homes -- in every corner of the city -- we will collectively stick our nose into a book.

The immediate goal is to stake a claim by distinguishing Akron as a city that reads, to set an unofficial record for the largest number of people reading at the same time and to generate excitement on this first step in a long journey.

The current holder of the unofficial title of ``Reading Capital of the World'' is Tifton, Ga., a small town where 7,500 people read simultaneously for one minute in 2000. Tifton officials are welcoming our challenge with a smile and with some advice -- expect good things to follow. In the months and years following Tifton's reading day, test scores rose in the schools; national media, including Time magazine and CNN, came calling; and citizens read more than a million books.

Akron can hope for similar results. But the ultimate success of This City Reads! will come a generation from now, when today's schoolchildren are raising children of their own. If the campaign has succeeded, that next generation will find greater vitality in the printed word.

Think of this as a New Year's resolution with great machinery behind it. The reading day is a symbolic beginning to a campaign with no time constraints and no specific statistical goals. Once those books, magazines and newspapers have been set aside on the 14th, the real work will begin.

This City Reads! intends to strengthen the schools, libraries and other literacy groups by giving them greater visibility and improving their ability to work together. A key piece of this effort will be a new reading hot line that will be based at the Akron-Summit County Public Library. By Jan. 14, anyone will be able to call the number and ask for advice on reading problems.

The most important intent of this campaign is to break down barriers between reading institutions and the community. Instead of leaving the task to teachers, librarians and others already deeply committed to literacy, This City Reads! calls on every person in Akron to add to the effort.

Obviously, I'm preaching to the choir right now. If you've read this far, you're probably not the one who needs this help. But that's the point. You serve the other half of the relationship. You can commit to the shared goal of reaching the people who do need our help.

In today's newspaper, and at locations all over the city, you will find a pledge card with specific commitments. If you're a parent, you can promise to attend a workshop that will teach you how to make children better readers. Or you can pledge to read to your children for 15 minutes a day. If you're not a parent, you can commit to establishing a reading corner in a local business. Or to volunteer to read to children in a classroom. Or to organize a book sale.

Most immediately, you can pledge to read for that half hour on Jan. 14.

Reading is a private act, but by making it public, we can begin to write a story of our own. This is our first chapter.

— David Giffels
Everyone has role in reading push
Beacon Journal


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