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Rallying to Read through Sunday Evening Storybook Time

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Through our Rally to Read 100 initiative, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) has brought together its partners and committed literacy leaders to unite around our nation’s children and support their reading engagement. We are proud to share this blog post from RIF Board Member, Thomas J. Plath. He serves as Senior Vice President for Human Resources and Global Citizenship for International Paper, an official Rally to Read partner. Tom is also a member of the board of directors for the Health Transformation Alliance and Baptist Memorial Health Care. He serves as a member of the board of regents for Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee.

On Sunday evenings, my wife and I FaceTime with our young grandchildren who live in different cities. Lisa and I read books to them during these video chats. It’s our rather contemporary way of conducting story time. Nothing is as heartwarming as the sight of the kids pushing their little faces close to the screen, wide-eyed by the unfolding of a good story.

As a grandparent and an educator by training, it’s fulfilling to inspire a love of reading in the young. While I haven’t worked in education in many years, Lisa is the director of a public library, and literacy continues to be at the forefront of our lives.

Literacy plays such a crucial role in our communities. It enables us to communicate and to learn more for ourselves. It has the potential to connect us and to broaden our worlds. It contributes to the resilience of our communities. That’s why International Paper is committed to education with a focus on literacy as one of four signature giving causes.

In the United States, 25 million children are not reading at a proficient level. The pandemic has weakened reading engagement and contributed to learning loss among children. To address this, Reading Is Fundamental has launched the Rally to Read 100 initiative, which International Paper is proud to sponsor. This initiative challenges kids across the country to pledge to read 100 books by Read Across America Day in March 2022.

Beyond Rally to Read, International Paper began supporting Reading Is Fundamental in 2018 through their flagship Books for Ownership (BFO) program. The program provides three age-appropriate books for every first-grader in school districts surrounding IP communities. The goal is to help kids build their very own home libraries. Over the course of two school years, we have reached more than 98,000 students and distributed over 282,000 books. Think about how many budding home libraries this creates!

Finding creative ways to inspire reading in our communities has paid off during the pandemic. Feedback from the 2020-2021 school year indicates that 94% of teachers and parents said the BFO program increased students’ enthusiasm for reading.

And more recently, International Paper has focused on the power of diverse books in its work with RIF. A Washington Post article published in 2020 described the lasting impacts of the pandemic on student achievement: “Most of the research concludes students of color and those in high-poverty communities fell further behind their peers, exacerbating long-standing gaps in American education.” To help address this critical need, we have expanded our work with RIF to support their Race, Equity and Inclusion initiative. A portion of our grant funding supports RIF’s Race, Equity and Inclusion Matching Grants, which helps to provide books featuring diverse characters and storylines for children in these communities.

By supporting RIF, I hope that we can spread the word that reading is an adventure. Reading inspires children to be whatever they want, to go wherever they’d like, and to experience the fun and imagination of new characters.

If your family or classroom hasn’t taken the pledge to read 100 books, I would urge you to make the pledge. I am helping my grandchildren reach their goal of reading 100 books during our Sunday night FaceTime sessions, and they couldn’t be more excited to see where the next book takes them.