This commentary originally appeared in the (Racine) Journal Times.
Literacy is at the core of any community’s ability to thrive. Research shows that students who do not successfully learn to read by third grade are unlikely to complete high school on time, which creates barriers to accessing higher education and high-paying jobs. The educational system is the foundation of literacy, and RUSD works to strengthen this skill both inside and outside the classroom.
It’s important to note that a students’ chances of success increase when the whole community joins the school district in promoting literacy. That’s why I am grateful to our partners at SC Johnson and United Way of Racine County for helping make Racine County a community that respects and supports the importance of literacy for all of our children.
SC Johnson champions literacy, molding Racine County into a community immersed in reading. During the 2011-12 school year, SC Johnson joined the Racine Public Library and other community partners in issuing the Racine Reads challenge to local children, which encouraged the community to read 1 million books during the school year. More than 10,000 children participated, representing each of Racine’s schools and reading a total of 1.8 million books. In addition, this program raised $150,000 to make over libraries for the schools that read the most: Wadewitz Elementary School, Trinity Lutheran School and Renaissance School.
Since 2013, SC Johnson has also donated over $250,000 to sponsor Battle of the Books, a literature contest for local 4th- and 5th-grade students. Participants compete to read and master 40 books, teaching students to read attentively and bond over their reading.
In 2015, SC Johnson donated nearly $275,000 for a new bookmobile. The Racine bookmobile brings 1,400 books and 400 DVDs, as well as any books borrowers place on hold, to 26 sites throughout Racine, providing readers who may not be able to reach the Racine Library’s downtown location with additional access to these materials
During the past school year, SC Johnson’s Racine Wonders Program provided the book Wonder to 9,000 children in the greater Racine area. Teachers whose students participated received a curriculum for the book and $200 for their classroom; 1,000 participants submitted essays to the initiative’s competition, and SC Johnson awarded the top 10 writers $10,000 each for their schools. Winning students and their classmates also received a Kindle Fire to further encourage a love of reading.
SC Johnson and RUSD understand the necessity of collaboration to encourage literacy throughout Racine County. United Way is another leader when it comes to literacy. Its Imagination Library program provides new, age-appropriate books to Racine County children under age 5 for free each month. This program is possible thanks to the late chairman of SC Johnson, Sam Johnson, who established an endowment fund that continues to support Imagination Library.
Through United Way’s Schools of Hope, tutors provide weekly instruction to first-, second- and third-grade students in need of extra reading support. In addition, United Way funds programs such as Racine Literacy Council’s Adult Literacy Program to provide support beyond what its own initiatives accomplish.
For years, literacy efforts such as these have provided a foundation for Racine County children’s success and opportunity. SC Johnson’s efforts demonstrate its understanding of the significance of literacy in our community, and its willingness to be a leader in our community’s progress. In addition, United Way’s work has provided excellent reading support as well as forged partnerships between programs and organizations to continue to spread the importance of reading. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of SC Johnson and United Way, our community has numerous opportunities to not only master reading, but also to celebrate it.
Dr. Eric Gallien is the superintendent of Racine Unified School District and chairman of United Way of Racine County’s 2018 annual campaign.