RIT athletes demonstrate the power of reading

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A. Sue Weisler

Samantha Whalen, center, member of the RIT’s Women’s Crew team, reads Amazing Tigers to first graders at School No. 5 during the Giant Read last November. Men’s lacrosse head coach Jake Coon, left, and one of his players, Dan MacRae, far right, are also pictured.

Kevin Rattigan, a member of RIT’s men’s lacrosse team, is hooked on volunteering at Rochester’s John Williams School No 5. Rattigan, along with dozens of RIT student athletes and staff members from the Wallace Center, volunteer at the Rochester elementary school each week to work with kindergarteners through sixth graders on improving their literacy and education skills. The program, READ: Hope in Action, launched in 2007 under the vision of Chandra McKenzie, assistant provost for academic affairs, in collaboration with Lou Spiotti, RIT director of athletics and recreation.

“Our student athletes have given a lot of time and effort to this program and the rewards have been phenomenal in terms of the friendships and bond our students and library staff have developed with the school children,” says Spiotti. “I’ve witnessed it during my visits there. It shows that the more you give the more you get in return.”

To get a greater return on RIT’s volunteer efforts, Rattigan came up with an idea to expand READ: Hope in Action and team up with other local universities and colleges with Rochester elementary schools.

“I want other student athletes and school children to discover the sense of fulfillment I get from volunteering,” says Rattigan, a fourth-year international studies major. “Before I started participating in this program, I had never volunteered, nor had ever thought of it. The first time I went to School No. 5 I loved it. It is amazing to see how much RIT’s presence impacts the children.” 

Rattigan’s idea to grow the program is now a reality thanks to a $13,000 grant from the John F. Wegman Fund through the Rochester Area Community Foundation. Rattigan teamed up with Kari Horowitz, Wallace Center librarian/liaison for the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, to write the grant proposal. On Nov. 5, athletes and library staffs from Monroe Community College, Nazareth College, Roberts Wesleyan College, St. John Fisher College, State University of New York at Brockport and University of Rochester will participate with RIT in “The Giant Read,” one of the signature events of READ: Hope in Action. 

Each university and college is paired with a city elementary school and will read a book of their choice to first graders in the respective schools’ gymnasiums. All the colleges are hoping to select a book related to their mascots. RIT volunteers read the book Amazing Tigers and RIT’s mascot, Ritchie, participates. The volunteers will then play games with the kids. Each first grader will receive a copy of the book.

The other key event of the program is the sixth-grade visit to campus next spring. Each of the colleges will host their “adopted” elementary school’s sixth-grade class for a campus tour, lunch, games and a question-and-answer session in which the athletes engage the sixth graders about the college experience.

Joanne Wideman, principal of School No. 5, has worked with RIT on the READ: Hope in Action program since its inception.

“RIT is unbelievable,” says Wideman. “ The students and staff are our number one partner and go above and beyond. The connections they make with the children are really something to see. The Giant Read is an incredible event with every inch of our gymnasium covered with members of the RIT family reading to students.”

The grant funding will provide more than 500 books for the first graders, school supplies for the sixth graders, bus transportation and lunch.

Adds McKenzie: “The student athletes may be the reason why these little ones decide to become better readers, or want to learn more or even go to college someday. I am really excited that RIT has played a lead role in trying to bring this collaborative project to Rochester-area colleges and universities.”