U.S. Department of Education Closes Out Summer Reading Initiative—"Read to the Top!"—With Record Success
Despite busy schedules and summer heat, a record number of Cabinet members and senior administration officials joined U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for the Department's weekly reading initiative, “Read to the Top!” during June, July and August. For 12 weeks, Secretary Duncan and 15 Cabinet members and other senior administration officials brought books to life for the more than 1,200 children who gathered under shady trees on the Department's plaza to listen to the stories and ask questions. Even the “First Grandmother” of the United States, Marian Robinson, stopped by to read to the children who had tons of questions for her.
The 15 Cabinet members and senior officials answering the President's call to service through “Read to the Top!” were: White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel; Senior White House Advisor David Axelrod; Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett; Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu; Director of the Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes; U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice; Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson; Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack; Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and his wife, Patricia Shinseki; Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar; Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan; Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke; Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis; and Mrs. Robinson.
“The summer reading initiative brought us together as a literary family,” Secretary Duncan said. “I am grateful to the students, teachers and community leaders who came out each week for the event. The events couldn't have been as successful had it not been for the hard work of employees here at the Department and my counterparts who read to the children. Scholastic was incredibly generous for donating more than 2,000 books so that each child could take home their own book and Target for enlivening the plaza's reading area with colorful rugs and beanbags for the kids to use. Whole Foods kept the children refreshed on those hot days with healthy frozen treats. This was truly a team effort, and I am so grateful to have been a part of it.”
“Read to the Top!” was created to combat summer reading loss in response to President Barack Obama's national volunteer campaign, “United We Serve,” which challenged all Americans to engage in sustained, meaningful service in their communities this summer. In an effort to promote learning and literacy at a time when children weren't typically in school, the Department collaborated with the Corporation for National and Community Service, libraries and community organizations. Secretary Duncan, other Cabinet members and top administration officials read books each week to children, in grades pre-k through 6, from more than 30 private, traditional public and charter schools, beginning June 24 and ending Aug. 28.
The Department's weekly literacy series on the plaza culminated with Secretary Duncan receiving a 2009 “Champion of Summer Learning Award” from the National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University. He received the award for supporting summer learning and encouraging school districts and states to use American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars to educate children over the summer.
In addition to the Department's efforts to stop summer reading loss through “Read to the Top!” it also awards Striving Readers grants aimed at raising the literacy level of adolescent students and building a strong, scientific research base for adolescent literacy instruction. This year's grants will be announced later this month. To date, the Department has awarded approximately $120 million for projects aimed at helping struggling readers. When this year's grants are awarded, State Education Agencies will receive approximately $7.2 million to implement and evaluate supplemental literacy programs for struggling readers in middle and high schools.