How it all started
READ USA began as a small project between a community volunteer and a teacher at George Washington Carver Elementary School (GWCES) in Duval County, Florida. While volunteering as a tutor in Ms. Vanessa Tussey’s classroom – where 100% of the students come from a high-poverty neighborhood – Ellen Wiss saw something different and unique occurring in her classroom: struggling students were transforming into engaged, curious learners.
Motivated by what she was seeing, Wiss initiated a dialogue with Ms. Tussey about the increased engagement and outcomes she was witnessing, and asked what was needed most to help more students make the same transformation and replicate this in other classrooms.
Ms. Tussey’s response was the spark that ignited READ USA into being: “Books of interest for my students to inspire them to read; books they can choose and own. Reading is key to learning.”
Together, Wiss and Tussey raised enough money to hold a free, colorful book fair with thousands of new and popular stories for every student at GWCES to take home. This was the school’s very first book fair. The money barrier was removed, and every student was able to participate and went home with new books of their choosing to read and start building their home libraries. As demand and support for the book choice and ownership program grew, READ USA expanded into every Duval County Public School (DCPS) elementary school as well as several charter and Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Schools.
READ USA incorporated in 2016 and has since evolved into an established organization led by literacy experts and support staff all focused on closing the literacy gap in Duval County.
In 2019, Founder and Board Chair Ellen Wiss secured a grant from the City of Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance to pilot a peer-to-peer literacy intervention program involving certified teachers, teens, and elementary students. Along with independent evaluations of the program’s efficacy from Jacksonville University’s education department, Wiss combined these elements to create READ USA’s robust model for a reading academy and teen workforce development program. This model became the foundation of READ USA’s Literacy Tutoring program that is active in many schools across Duval County today.