All you needed to do was see the joy on the faces of the elementary school children at John Williams School No. 5 to realize the RIT family is making a difference in their young lives.
On Nov. 6, more than 50 volunteers comprised of RIT student athletes, administrators, coaches and Wallace Center staff participated in the Giant Read at the Rochester City school. Spread out throughout the school’s gymnasium, each of the RIT volunteers paired up with a few of the first-graders to read the book Amazing Tigers (appropriate title, wouldn’t you agree?).
The school is like a mini United Nations with close to 600 students, grades K-6, who speak 40 different languages. Many of the children are refugees and come from such countries as Somalia and Burma. One-third of the student population is categorized as ELL or English language learners. To help them keep up with their coursework, nearly 20 RIT athletes and staff from the RIT Wallace Center volunteer there each Friday.
One of the inspirational volunteers is R.J. Muldrow (pictured below), a fourth-year criminal justice student, Wallace Center employee, and former member of the RIT men’s basketball team. Last year’s sixth grade class loved Muldrow so much that the students asked him to speak at their graduation or “Moving Up” ceremony.
The “Giant Read” is part of an overall project called: READ: Hope in Action. Chandra McKenzie, RIT assistant provost and RIT Libraries director, initiated it in 2007. Working with RIT Athletics Director Lou Spiotti, they put a team together to create this program among an academic library, college athletes and an urban elementary school. As shown, Ritchie and Wallace Center’s Kari Horowicz led a game during Big Read event.
Kevin Rattigan (pictured below), a third-year international studies student and member of the RIT men’s lacrosse team, volunteers weekly at School No. 5 and hopes other area universities replicate RIT’s model. The idea is currently being pitched to local college athletic and library directors.
Rattigan believes it’s a project that can easily be expanded to other urban schools. He says athletes are given so much and have the time to spend mentoring young children. Hear more of his remarks in a TV news story about the Giant Read produced by WROC-TV (Channel 8).
School No. 5 Principal Joanne Wideman summed it up best when she offered these words to the RIT volunteers last week: “You have no idea how much you mean to all of us. You are our No. 1 Partner. We are a blessed school.”