“Reading is key to life, to joy—to our very existence,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. It’s foundational to everything we do. Now more than ever, after two years of disruption as the result of COVID-19, harnessing the love of reading is key to helping our students and families recover. “That’s why the AFT is launching the Reading Opens the World campaign—to first and foremost give children and young people free books to read, love and keep, and to open their world,” says Weingarten.
This new multiyear, multimillion-dollar literacy campaign will support students, educators and families, and foster an ongoing love of reading. The campaign focuses on four areas of literacy support:
- Giving teachers and school staff the tools and professional development that translate the science of reading into usable resources to help students read and read well.
- Giving parents and caregivers fun and researched-based tips and tools to support literacy.
- Building on and forging new connections among families, communities, educators and schools to be partners in students’ literacy.
- Giving children and young people free books to read, love and keep.
To kick off the campaign, all three of the AFT’s officers—Weingarten plus AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus and AFT Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick C. Ingram—will be doing read-alouds with and giving books to students at Malcolm X. Elementary School in Washington, D.C. In addition, families and caregivers will be given fun tips for supporting literacy development at home. “Whether you’re a kid in rural West Virginia, in the suburbs of Texas or in a shelter in New York City, opening a book means you’re opening the world. Reading opens possibilities and makes dreams more of a reality. It creates confidence. But reading is hard without books,” Weingarten explains.
During this $2 million campaign, the AFT will give away 1 million books to children and youth around the country. These books are provided through AFT’s partnership with First Book, a national nonprofit founded in 1992 that is dedicated to furthering educational equity by providing high-quality books and learning materials to children in need at no or low cost. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the AFT-First Book partnership; since 2011, this collaboration has provided 7.5 million books to students.
First Book President, CEO and Co-founder Kyle Zimmer sees great promise in this campaign, saying: “Together, the AFT and First Book are joining hands to help more children build home libraries and give families the opportunity to share stories and create a joy of reading. These books will quite literally open up a world of possibilities, enabling more children to explore places far beyond their neighborhoods, see themselves in books and expand their dreams for the future.”
Joining the campaign launch are more than 20 AFT locals that will provide free books and resources for children and families throughout December. Across the country, locals from California to New Hampshire, Wisconsin to Florida are distributing thousands of books to stock home libraries, reach children who need bilingual or STEM reading materials, and support parents with resources about early childhood education and social and emotional learning. The Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, an AFT affiliate, has jumped into the effort already; here’s an inspiring video of children thrilled to be choosing their own books.
“But this campaign is more than a book giveaway,” Weingarten explains. “It’s a long-term investment in working with parents, caregivers, teachers and support staff.” According to recent AFT polling, one-third of teachers say that in a typical year, more than half of their students start the year below grade level in reading. And only 44 percent of teachers who provide reading instruction feel “fairly well prepared” or “very well prepared” to teach reading to struggling and below-grade-level readers. As Louisa C. Moats, a leading literacy researcher, wrote in her recent American Educator article, “The fact that teachers need better preparation, professional development and resources to carry out deliberate instruction in reading … should prompt action rather than criticism. It should highlight the chronic gap between what teachers need and what they have been given.”
The AFT is helping fill that gap with our existing resources and by developing new webinars and a practical online course. In addition, the new Reading Opens the World community on Share My Lesson offers a collection of resources from partners like First Book and Colorín Colorado that includes curated lists of diverse books, captivating read-aloud videos by actors, and some of the latest research on the science of reading—including reading guides and lesson plans for grades K–12, and tip sheets for parents and caregivers who want to help children become better readers while fostering a love of reading.
Reading Opens the World will feature events throughout 2022 to help students and families connect with the larger community through a shared love of reading. The AFT is planning family literacy nights, community reading circles and book events, a bookmobile that will provide beloved titles and resources to book deserts around the country, and literacy programs for families in rural and hard-to-reach areas. After so much trauma and loss, Weingarten says, “We’re bringing everyone together to experience the joy of reading.”