Reading Across America on March 2

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For the eighth consecutive year, principals and teachers will offer to dye their hair green, be duct-taped to walls, or jump out of airplanes; all-star football players will wear silly, tall striped hats; and governors and mayors will issue proclamations, all to encourage children to pick up a book and read on March 2, the National Education Association's (NEA) Read Across America Day.

Read Across America is a year-round program, sponsored by NEA, the 2.7 million-member organization of educators, to focus national attention on the importance of motivating and helping children to read and master crucial skills. The major reading celebration always takes place on March 2, the birthday of children's book legend, the late Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, whose writings have been hailed by educators as very effective tools for teaching young children essential basic reading skills. This year's Read Across America co-captains are National Football League stars and twin brothers, Tiki and Ronde Barber, who with other NFL players visited local Jacksonville, Florida, schools to show students that reading is "Where It's 'HAT' "and encourage them to celebrate literacy as part of recent Super Bowl Week celebrations.

In addition to organizing major publicity efforts by actors, athletes, and officials, NEA's Read Across America program offers many resources that can be used by booksellers, librarians, community groups, parents, and teachers to bring reading excitement to children of all ages. (For NEA's Read Across America resource lists and schedules of national, statewide, and local events, go to

NEA's Read Across America has also introduced a new literacy program, Lea Con NEA (Read With NEA), designed to reach out to the Hispanic community. NEA initiated the program in response to recent reports indicating that Hispanic children, the nation's largest and fastest growing minority youth population, continue to perform well below the national average in reading, with 56 percent of Hispanic fourth graders reading below grade level. Actor and activist Edward James Olmos was named the chair of Lea Con NEA, which will offer Spanish language resources to close the achievement gap for Hispanic children.

In promotional material for Read Across America Day, NEA noted a fact of particular interest to many booksellers: Findings by various educational groups link the number of books in the home to students' literacy and achievement. Having children's books in the home appeared to be a significant factor in fostering literacy according to the "2001 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS)": Students from homes with 10 or more children's books had average scores of 86 points higher than the scores of students with fewer than 10 books. A study by the Educational Testing Service found that the more types of reading materials there are in the home, the higher the reading proficiency of the students. A positive relationship was also found between the number of different types of reading materials reported in students' homes and the average reading scores of fourth graders on the 1999 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP studies also found that students who read for fun every day, scored the highest on reading assessments.

During past celebrations of Read Across America Day, administrators and teachers in many schools have offered outrageous incentives for students to read large numbers of books. Eating fried worms, kissing a yak, and jumping from 1,800 feet are feats that have been carried out by administrators in schools around the country for Read Across America Day. Two Guinness world records -- largest number of participants in a read-aloud and most hours spent in a continuous read-aloud -- have also been broken on Read Across America Day. --Nomi Schwartz