Reading grants awarded by Heisman Trophy Trust

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Wed., Jun. 8, 2011
UConn quarterback Mike Box and MHS basketball guard Ashley Perez flank the Heisman Trophy and pose with Washington Elementary School children Camari (left) and Shanai (right). Photos by Martha Marteney.
UConn quarterback Mike Box and MHS basketball guard Ashley Perez flank the Heisman Trophy and pose with Washington Elementary School children Camari (left) and Shanai (right). Photos by Martha Marteney.

Nathan Hale and Washington elementary schools are the recipients of a $35,000 grant from the Heisman Trophy Trust to be used for the purchase of books for their students to read over the summer.

This is the first time the organization has awarded a reading initiative grant, explained Heisman Trophy Trust President Bill Dockery. Dockery learned about studies showing the “summer reading slide” from his sister, Mary Hourdequin, an education consultant who works with Washington Principal Karen Grey. For children who stop reading during the summer months, when they return to school in the fall, their levels of reading skills have actually slid backwards.

“There’s a big reading slide over the summer, especially for kids who don’t have easy access to books,” said Dockery. The grant funds will be used to purchase each student 10 books. Each child will have the opportunity to select any books that interest him during the school’s Scholastic Book Fair. “It doesn’t matter what they read,” he said. “They’ll pick books of their choice. They’ll read to their interests.”

Before the end of the school year, the children’s reading abilities will be evaluated, and then they will be re-evaluated at the beginning of the school year. The children’s attitudes towards reading will also be surveyed. “We’re looking forward to the results,” said Dockery.

Grey told the children during the June 3 assembly, “This is a really amazing, once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Dockery explained to the children that the Heisman Trophy Trust not only awards the Heisman Trophy to the country's top college football player, but also funds programs to provide opportunities to improve life in the United States. “We’re very excited about it,” he said about the reading initiative grant.

“We want you to be good teammates,” Dockery said, to encourage the children to do their part and read over the summer.

University of Connecticut football coach Andy Baylock talked to the children about choosing to have the right attitude in life and the importance of being dependable and accountable for one’s actions. “Your attitude is your choice,” said Baylock. “Do your best, and don’t quit.”

“The main reason I’m here today is to talk with you about being focused,” said UConn quarterback Mike Box. Continuing with the sports theme, Box explained that to be good at anything in life, one has to practice. “Reading will help you in life,” he said.

Manchester High School Athletic Director Lindsey Boutilier took the lead from Box and ran with it, asking the question, “How do you get better at something?” to which the children enthusiastically shouted, “Practice!” “This summer, you have the opportunity to practice reading,” said Boutilier.

MHS basketball guard Ashley Perez admitted that she didn’t like to read much when she was younger, because she did not have the opportunity to choose books that were interesting to her. The Nathan Hale and Washington school children will be able to select any kind of book that they want to read. Perez also said, “You just have to keep doing your job, which is going to school.”

The children will each receive a backpack to go along with their 10 books. “You’re going to have your own library on your back,” said Grey.

The children are to keep a log of the books they read, using a sheet of paper provided by the school. Grey suggested putting the log on the refrigerator over the summer.

“We should see an improved attitude toward reading,” said Washington School reading specialist Jessica Crudden. She expects the children will be motivated to read because they can choose the selection and because someone is giving them the books to read at home. Plus, she noted, with $8 being the average cost of a book, it shows a big commitment to supporting the children.

Drawing two of her students close to her, second-grader Camari and first-grader Shanai, Crudden said, “I know these two will read their books, because they have a mom at home who will support their reading.”

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