When I was in elementary school, I was one of those kids who got overly excited for the annual book fair. The night before, I’d spend a lot of time perusing the fair’s flier, looking at all the books that were going to be offered. Being the age that I was, I figured every school had a book fair each year. I didn’t know that many schools throughout the country lack the resources to provide books for their students. Fortunately, United Way is pairing up with The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and Scholastic to provide books and encourage reading at some of the country’s most underserved elementary schools.

The initiative, which is called the United Way Club Connect Adopt-a-School program, was developed by Bill O’Dowd and has been in the works for years. It officially debuted in February 2015 after being tested in several cities, and represents the first time United Way has worked with high–poverty schools all over the United States. Research has shown that reading by third grade is crucial for academic success later on, so a focus on early reading is key. A study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2013 revealed that only 32 percent of boys and 38 percent of girls are reading proficiently by fourth grade. If that’s not troubling enough, third graders who do not read at grade level are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

So what’s to be expected from the Adopt-a-School initiative? Schools that are chosen to participate will receive over 400 books from Scholastic, access to online reading resources and engagement tools for parents and guardians. Each school will be equipped with a Reading Oasis, which is a place for students and their parents or guardians to have access to the donated learning materials at any time. Each Reading Oasis will provide books on CD as well. All of the learning materials will be geared toward pre-K through third grade in order to emphasize the importance of early literacy. Also, each student will have access to a membership to the United Way Club Connect website, which will help students remain engaged with reading during after-school hours, including the summer. United Way will also send parents and guardians emails with coupons, tips to help their children with reading and other incentives for engaging with the program.

Currently, it costs $10,000 to implement the Adopt-a-School program in each school. However, there is hope that the initiative will spread across the country, as every student deserves the chance to love reading.

Did You Know?

There are many great reading materials out there, especially in the form of apps. MemeTales offers picture books with audio components to help beginners read along. StoryKit (which is only available for iOS at this time) gives you the chance to create your own electronic storybook. Both apps are free!