Community men have the opportunity to mentor local children thanks to an initiative started by the United Way of the Wabash Valley and its partners.
Real Men Read is a program where men volunteer to read to students at local schools for an hour once a month. It is run through funds by a grant from Duke Energy Foundation, the Margaret Reed Trust and United Way's Success by 6.
The program began in the Wabash Valley last year, but this will be the first year for the program in Clay Community Schools. Other schools involved include Vigo County School Corporation, Sullivan schools and South Vermillion schools.
The mentors will visit the same classroom once a month for five months, beginning in October.
Michael Owens, assistant principal and athletic director at Clay City High School, will be volunteering at Clay City Elementary in one of the kindergarten classes.
"Obviously, we want kids at a young age to see adults modeling reading, which is a key component to academics," Owens said.
The program has five main benefits including:
* Students receive extra attention and positive role models who value education,
* Boys and girls see men modeling the importance of reading,
* Students listen to a fluent reader and follow along, improving their own fluency and comprehension,
* Mentors develop relationships with the schools, and
* Each student receives a book every month to build their own home library.
"Real Men Read will offer a selection of culturally relevant and grade appropriate books," Executive Director of the United Way of the Wabash Valley Troy Fears said. "Mentors will receive lesson plans and/or question sheets for each book title to assist them with leading a reading discussion."
Fears said, according to www.firstbook.org, "Everything a child learns depends on how well they can read. Up to third grade, kids are 'learning to read.' After third grade, they begin 'reading to learn.' Children who finish third grade without adequate reading skills will often struggle to learn new things. Not just language and literature are affected; their studies in math, science, history, art and music suffer too. Statistics show that, without intervention, 74 percent will never catch up."
This year alone, more than 90 men will be reading to more than 1,950 kindergarten students in the Wabash Valley.
Real Men Read has four purposes including:
* To show the value of early childhood education to business leaders of the community,
* To show students that real men do in fact read and that real men value education,
* To encourage and improve literacy skills of our students, and
* To provide mentoring opportunities with students for men.
"The children in our community grow up to be our future teachers, doctors, scientists, politicians, business owners and employees," said Fears. "Regardless of who you are, you are affected by how well our children read."
Owens agrees that reading is important.
"Reading and reading comprehension is such a key part to so many disciplines," Owens said. "Students take reading into science classes, social studies and even math with story problems. When children learn to read, their comprehension skills go up. You can't replace getting started at a young age and building those skills."
"Successful businesses rely on a well-educated workforce," Fears said. "In the Wabash Valley, we have a core of industries specializing in advanced manufacturing, engineering and technology. Area businesses can be attracted to our region if we have a pool of talented employees from which to hire. Further, students who graduate from our local universities will be able to find high-paying jobs in Indiana and not have to move out-of-state. In this way we can retain the Wabash Valley's talent and fight the so-called 'brain drain.' Ultimately, the quality of life in our area will benefit as more business and families prosper."
Fears explained that there is more to this program than the social and economic benefits.
"There is a degree of personal fulfillment, too," he said. "Imagine the impact you can make by helping kids learn to read. With your encouragement and influence, they'll enjoy school and learn more. In turn, they'll be better prepared to pursue higher education and a satisfying career."
Owens believes this program can affect not only the children involved, but the next generation after them.
"Students need someone to model an interest in reading and good literature," Owens said. "Hopefully they will remember seeing these models reading to them, and they will someday read to their children."
Any male may volunteer with Real Men Read.
"Men of all walks of life can be mentors. Doctors, janitors, bankers, firemen, educators and postmen are all readers," Fears said. "Anyone interested will need to fill out an application and have a background check completed."