Each Wednesday morning during the school year, my wife and I make our way to one of the local elementary schools where we meet with our KidsHopeUSA students. KidsHopeUSA is a nationally recognized program where Christian adults are paired with at-risk students. (At-risk means that the student may struggle with school tasks due to academic, behavioral, or environmental factors.)
My heart warms as I open the classroom door and my little friend, whom I will call Jay, sees me and flashes a bright smile. We walk down the hallway and find a place where we can sit together and do a little homework. Jay loves to read out loud to me, and he shares excerpts from a book he has chosen.
This week Jay laughed out loud at some of the antics of the main characters and it reinforced to me why reading is so vitally important. Reading has become a window into a world that Jay might never experience any other way. And as he reads books he enjoys, he is strengthening a skill that can determine his success in school and beyond.
Educational research is clear about the importance of reading. As a retired educator, I can vouch for the necessity of developing strong reading skills in children, and particularly ensuring that they are reading at grade level by the end of the primary grades. Grade three has become an important benchmark in student learning because up to 3rd grade children are learning to read.
After 3rd grade the focus becomes “reading to learn,” using reading skills to understand new information in other subjects (such as science and math). In the intermediate grades and above, students must be able to read text critically, research, and problem solve. Children who do not learn to read by third grade are at a severe disadvantage, risk not graduating from high school, and sinking into (or remaining in) poverty.
Two years ago, Bishop Bob Farr challenged all churches in the Missouri Conference to pursue three priorities, including Pathway out of Poverty. This priority encourages churches to establish relational (one-on-one) partnerships within local schools. In 2019-20 the focus is upon using books as a tool to create meaningful relationships between caring adults and students in need.
The Open Hearts, Open Books initiative hopes to place 100,000 books in the hands of 100,000 children by the culmination of 2020! To accomplish this goal we need the help of every congregation.
At openheartsopenbooks.org your church can pledge to give books, view resources for school-church partnerships, and more. A webinar is available at moumethodist.org/actionplan where you can take a virtual tour of the new Open Hearts, Open Books website.
Join churches across Missouri in this exciting endeavor. We believe that through Open Hearts, Open Books, we can make a difference for children throughout Missouri!
Biography for Rob Gordon
Rob Gordon is a retired public school administrator and educational consultant who is currently serving as the Mid-State District Lay Leader. Rob and his wife, Linda, live in Boonville, Missouri where they attend Nelson Memorial United Methodist Church.