This Week at READ USA

Multicultural Literacy

READ USA Visits Capitol Hill

  • Read USA Inc.
  • January 31 2024

The READ USA team has been in Washington, D.C. this week for multiple important meetings with funders and elected officials to discuss READ USA’s work and impact. While the weather is chillier than we’re used to, how READ USA has been received has fired up our hearts and minds more than we can say!

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We kicked off the week with fantastic meetings with AmeriCorps leadership on Monday, including the AmeriCorps Deputy Director and the Director of Research. While we have so many truly invigorating opportunities in front of us to scale and grow our impact (much more to share in the future!), AmeriCorps leadership indicated that READ USA, a first-time AmeriCorps grantee, is showing leadership in best practices and strategic planning. This is an incredible acknowledgement of READ USA’s impact!

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Accelerate – a funder of READ USA’s literacy tutoring program – also organized an opportunity for Accelerate grantees to meet with elected officials on Capitol Hill this week to share our work and impact. READ USA team members met with Senator Marco Rubio’s education staff (FL). Our consultant, Chester Spellman – who set up our meetings with AmeriCorps – further maximized our time in D.C. by organizing time for us to also meet with Congressman John Rutherford (FL-05) and Congressman Aaron Bean’s education staff (FL-04).

With each elected official, we discussed how READ USA is closing the literacy gap in Duval County while providing teens with valuable workforce development skills. We are so grateful for not only the opportunity to meet with these esteemed individuals – who are highly “plugged in” to what is going on in their districts – but also for their thoughtful questions and discussion about literacy and READ USA. We left with the confidence that everyone we engaged with is on the same page about how vital closing the literacy gap is to uplifting our communities and our nation as a whole. Our immense gratitude goes to Chester and Accelerate for spearheading these meetings and for the elected officials and staffers who took the time to meet with us! THANK YOU!

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Our team also participated in a conference today with other Accelerate grantees from across the country, and we look forward to sharing the learnings and insights gleaned from our colleagues soon!

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A Piece of Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole’s Legacy in D.C.

Did you know that the First Coast’s very own Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole – who will also be our keynote speaker at READ USA’s 2024 Peace in the Pages event in October – was once the director of the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.? And did you know the museum set up a fund to honor Dr. Cole’s contributions to the institution and to our nation, the Johnnetta Betsch Cole Fund for the Future?

Dr. Cole’s legacy and impact extend far beyond the First Coast, and while our team was in D.C. for meetings, we took the opportunity to tour the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture – and guess what we saw?!

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Dr. Cole led the National Museum of African Art for eight years from 2009-2017, and she has since served as Director Emerita. She also gifted several items from her personal collection to display at the museum.

When Dr. Cole was president of Bennett and Spelman colleges, she was one of the first academics to wear African-inspired clothing and regalia during graduation ceremonies. Her Bennett College inaugural gown, displayed at the museum, features West African adinkra symbols and painted stanzas from Maya Angelou’s poems “Phenomenal Woman” and “And Still I Rise.”

She also donated her very own Damali Afrikan Wear ensemble to the museum, which was custom-made by Designer Brenda Winstead who used fabrics like mudcloth from Mali, kuba cloth from the Congo, and hand-dyed voile from Mauritania, in a beautiful blend of African textiles and American styling.

We loved the opportunity to experience the museum and celebrate Dr. Cole’s legacy and influence that spans continents and generations. Thank you, Dr. Cole, for your innumerable contributions to our nation and for your support of READ USA!

Thank You, Mayor Deegan, for Uplifting Literacy!

Our team had The. Most. FUN! this past Saturday at the kickoff of Mayor Deegan’s River City Readers Challenge! We are beyond grateful to Mayor Deegan, Melissa Ross and the rest of Mayor Deegan’s administration for creating a memorable and fun event for so many families to enjoy – and for inviting READ USA to play such an important role in providing free books to hundreds of children. We are also thankful for the 60+ volunteers who gave their time to uplift literacy in our community and for making it such a fun and welcoming environment for all!

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We are thrilled to announce that during the four-hour event at the Main Library Downtown, READ USA helped children choose thousands of FREE books to own and take home through funding from Mayor Deegan’s administration and Kids Hope Alliance! Each child went home with a free backpack, goodies of dozens community partners and lots of free books. We had a variety of titles for children of all ages to choose from – and we proudly had a table featuring a Mayor Deegan’s volume of Jeremy’s Journey book, too!


Our team is also grateful for our very own READ USA Board Member Vincent Taylor, who brought his title character of his children’s book series, Cornbread, with him for a special performance! The energy was palpable as Cornbread and Vincent brought several important reading concepts to life to energize kids in reading – and boy, did they energize us ALL! (And our CEO Dr. Rob Kelly was happy to be their assistant for a short time!)

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Don’t forget about the Reading Challenge! During the event, Mayor Deegan issued a citywide reading challenge to school-aged children – “20 minutes a day paves the way” – to encourage every child to read and enjoy a book for 20 minutes a day. The Mayor encouraged families to download the Beanstack app to log their reading minutes, and you can download and read more about how to use the app here. At the end of the year, the city’s top young readers will receive prizes!

THANK YOU again to Mayor Deegan for shining such a lively and positive light on literacy!

#IYCMI: A Successful Celebrate Literacy Week

Last week, schools across the state of Florida participated in Celebrate Literacy Week, and our READ USA team and volunteers had a blast!

The theme, Believe in Your “Shelf,” was perfect, in our opinion, as it centered around the very concepts that are foundational to READ USA: building lifelong skills and confidence through literacy!

We visited six elementary schools last week to conduct Read Alouds with PreK through 5th-grade students:

  • Annie R. Morgan Elementary
  • Arlington Elementary
  • Lake Lucina Elementary
  • Long Branch Elementary
  • Rutledge H. Pearson Elementary
  • A. Hull Elementary

Thank you to our staff members and dedicated volunteers for taking the time to read enthusiastically with these students – the joy was evident on their faces! And, many thanks to the leadership, teachers, and support staff at these elementary schools for hosting us.

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#ICYMI: Celebrate Literacy at Home – At Any Time!

We’ve compiled some easy and fun activities that parents, caregivers, and even siblings can do at home to make reading fun and engaging, at any time of the year. You can check them out here (and don’t worry about the dates – you can do these activities in any order or any day of the year!).

Children’s Book: Groundhog Day! by Gail Gibbons

Written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons Groundhog Day

Every year on February 2nd, people all across America wonder about the groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. Will he see his shadow on that day, or won’t he? Will spring come early or late? Will the weather stay cold or begin to warm up? But most importantly, what does a groundhog have to do with the weather?

In Groundhog Day!, children’s nonfiction master Gail Gibbons delves into the history behind this unusual holiday, and examines the ancient traditions that evolved into our modern holiday. With her signature combination of simple, clear text and bright illustrations, Gibbons introduces everything you need to know about groundhogs, too—what they eat, where they live, and how they raise their young.An overview of different Groundhog Day traditions around the country is included, as well as a page of groundhog trivia. A perfect introduction to this unique celebration!

Submitted by Kathi Hart, READ USA Content Specialist

Parent Education Corner: Building Background Knowledge

Children make sense of the world around them by connecting new information to what they already know from previous experiences. Having prior knowledge about a topic makes it easier to read and understand a written text. Teaching young children rich content knowledge in the early years can help them gain better reading comprehension skills later in school.

“The more knowledge a child starts with, the more likely she is to acquire yet more knowledge. She’ll read more and understand and retain information better, because knowledge, like Velcro, sticks best to other related knowledge.” -Natalie Wexler

Toddlers develop background knowledge when parents and family members:

  • Talk about what children see (e.g., “Look at those ants carrying those big crumbs! Let’s watch and see where they are taking them.”).  
  • Teach them new and interesting words and concepts—for example, day and night, the changing seasons, types of weather, or how things grow (e.g., “That is a coconut! It is the biggest seed in the world!”).
  • Help toddlers safely explore the world by doing with them such things as turning over rocks to look at insects, feeding the birds, looking up at clouds, drawing pictures in the dirt with sticks, and making mud pies.
  • Visit different places in the community, such as the grocery store, park, beach, or zoo, and talk about what they see and hear (e.g., “Do you hear that tapping sound? That sounds like a woodpecker. Look up in the tree and see if you can find it.”).
  • Know what toddlers know and stretch that knowledge (e.g., “Remember when we saw the ducks swimming with their webbed feet? Well, frogs have webbed feet, too. Those flaps of skin between their toes helps them swim fast!”).
  • Respond to toddlers’ questions (e.g., “That’s a good question. Let’s think about how we can find out the answer.”).
  • Provide feedback that helps toddlers expand on what they know and learn more about the world (e.g., “Well, yes. It looks like a duck, but it’s a swan. See how it has a long neck . . .”).
  • Explain daily routines and activities (e.g., “First, we have to go to the grocery store, and then we will go visit your Abuelita.”).
  • Encourage and support imaginary play (e.g., “Look at this box! We can pretend it is a boat or a rocket ship or a fire truck . . .”).

Submitted by Kathi Hart, READ USA Content Specialist

Do you have any questions or ideas for the Parent Education Corner? Anything you’d like to learn? Let us know here!