Athletes and Library Staff from Seven Local Colleges Team Up to Promote Literacy in City Schools

RIT receives a grant to expand its READ: Hope in Action program and widen impact

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A. Sue Weisler

Bob Tonnessen, center, and Mike Boya, right, members of RIT’s Men’s Lacrosse team, read to first graders at John Williams School No. 5 during the Giant Read. Six other local universities and colleges will join RIT on Nov. 5 for this year’s Giant Read.

On Friday, Nov. 5, more than 400 student athletes and library staff from seven area colleges and universities will simultaneously fan out to seven Rochester city elementary schools to participate in the Giant Read, a signature event of the READ: Hope in Action program created by Rochester Institute of Technology.

Monroe Community College, Nazareth College, Roberts Wesleyan College, St. John Fisher College, the College at Brockport, State University of New York and University of Rochester will join RIT in the Giant Read on Nov. 5.

READ: Hope in Action, launched in 2007 under the vision of Chandra McKenzie, RIT assistant provost of academic affairs, in collaboration with Lou Spiotti, RIT director of athletics and recreation. The program partners RIT’s Wallace Center staff and student athletes with elementary school children to give them assistance in the classroom. For the past three years, RIT has partnered with John Williams School No. 5, a pre-kindergarten through sixth grade elementary school.

Among RIT’s group of dedicated volunteers is Kevin Rattigan, a member of the RIT’s men’s lacrosse team. Rattigan, an international studies major from Chicago, came up with the idea to get other Rochester-area universities and colleges involved in the program. RIT recently received a grant from the John F. Wegman Fund of Rochester Area Community Foundation to make Rattigan’s idea a reality.

“I wanted 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.”

For the Giant Read, 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, also participates. The volunteers will then play games with the kids. Each first grader will receive a copy of the book.

“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 bonds 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.”

Adds Joanne Wideman, principal of John Williams School No. 5: “RIT is unbelievable. 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 partnering elementary schools in addition to John Williams School No. 5 are: Children’s School of Rochester School No. 15, John Walton Spencer School No. 16, Enrico Fermi School No. 17, General Elwell S. Otis School No. 30, Theodore Roosevelt School No. 43 and Flower City School No. 54.

“I love the idea of the Giant Read,” says Lessie Hamilton-Rose, principal of Flower City School No. 54. “I am excited to share this experience with the parents because these books will be part of their child’s home library.”

In addition to the Giant Read event, each college and university will host their “adopted” elementary school’s sixth grade class next spring. The sixth graders will participate in an on-campus tour, lunch, games and a question and answer session in which the athletes engage the sixth graders about the college experience. The grant will provide more than five hundred books for the first graders to keep, school supplies for the sixth graders, bus transportation and lunches.

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