- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

The students at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, in Southwest, knew their weekly reading sessions with Education Department officials were a good gig, but they didn’t expect the big boss would some day sit down and crack a book.

On Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan sat before 34 Amidon-Bowen students to read the children’s book “Reading Makes You Feel Good.”

“The children of this country have no better champion than Arne Duncan,” D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said in introducing Mr. Duncan, who joined the Obama administration after running the Chicago public school system.

The Wednesday reading program - called “power lunch” - is a lunchtime literacy-and-mentoring program that brings adult volunteers into low-income elementary schools for one-on-one, read-aloud sessions with students, according to the sponsor, Everybody Wins.

Mr. Duncan came to the school in part because students have increased their reading proficiency by 27 percent, according to recent testing.

School officials attributed the students’ success to such programs as Everybody Wins, a nonprofit group.

Mr. Duncan stopped on almost every page to involve the children in the story. He also told the children that his parents read to him every night and that such an exercise would make a big difference in their lives, too.

When he asked them how many like to read for fun, about half raised their hand. Some said they enjoyed reading Harry Potter, fantasy books and fairy tales. One student said he liked to read about Martin Luther King. Another said history, another said poems, and another said fishing books.

The floor then was opened for the children to ask questions.

Mr. Duncan was asked about his family, how old his two children are, how tall he is and whether he ever golfed, bowled or played baseball, football, tennis or basketball.

The question about basketball got a rise from the audience because Mr. Duncan, who is 6 feet 5 inches tall, played at Harvard and then professionally in Australia before getting involved in education.

Mr. Duncan also encouraged the students to turn off their TVs and video games to read each night, and said it would make a difference later in life.

When he asked the students how many of them planned to go to college, everyone raised their hand.

“Kids all over this country are unbelievably smart,” said Mr. Duncan, who vowed to do everything possible to help get them into college.

After finishing the group reading, Mr. Duncan read one-on-one with a child named Jomiah Matthews, a second-grader with good reading skills who likes superheroes and comes from a large family. Mr. Duncan will return in two weeks to read another children’s book to Jomiah.

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