Students at Hartford and Lewis and Clark schools started their morning Oct. 2 with a group of visitors on school grounds as more than a dozen men and women rode up on their bicycles carting books for the children.
“It’s special to come to these two schools because the founder of Ride for Reading (Mathew Portell) and I both grew up in Wood River,” local organizer Shannon McWhorter said. “Mathew called on family and friends across the country that he has met through teaching and cycling and asked them to volunteer for RFR in their neighborhoods.”
After becoming a teacher, Portell moved from Wood River to Nashville. During his first year in the classroom, he gave his students an assignment to read a book over the weekend. Portell was shocked when he learned how many children in his classroom did not have their own books at home.
As an avid cyclist, Portell told his biking colleagues about the children’s lack of reading material. Portell came up with the idea to have a book collection through his fellow cyclists to donate to schoolchildren.
Since Ride for Reading began in February 2008, the program has donated more than 250,000 books, delivering them by bicycle to children at Title I schools.
“I think this is really a great program,” Hartford Principal Mark Begando said. “Not only are these kids given the tools to become better readers, they are also seeing the delivery process — on bikes. That’s a great example of physical fitness as well. I love getting the kids pumped up on occasions like this. They are excited and were really looking forward to them (cyclists) coming to our school.”
To help more children, a national push called Ride for Reading Week was developed. During that week, volunteers and partners across the nation host their own book delivery via bicycle. The organization anticipates more than 30,000 books will be delivered. Delivery sites include local towns such as Hartford, Wood River, Alton, Belleville, Madison and Collinsville, but the program has reaches as far as Las Vegas, Nashville, Memphis, Philadelphia and Detroit. In 2014, 52 cities from Maryland to California spread Ride for Reading’s mission to children from low-income areas.
“We’ve made five deliveries this fall,” McWhorter said. “Wood River Police Department is going to escort us from Hartford school to Lewis and Clark Elementary and we will pull the books in carts, carry them in backpacks or in bags hooked to our bicycles. It’s a beautiful thing to see these kids get excited to have a book of their own. We put them out on tables and the kids can come up and choose the book they want to read. We see them immediately go back to their groups and open the books; that’s such a reward for us.”
As part of the process to receive a book, each child must raise his or her right hand and make this pledge before receiving a book: “I promise to read my book twice. I will never ever throw my book away. I will pass it on to a friend, family member, neighbor, classmate or someone else I know. And I promise to be the best student for the rest of the year.”
For information, visit www.rideforreading.org.
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