- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 12, 2006

‘Angelo Binning says he doesn’t use his Xbox as much as his friends. Instead, he frequently finds himself turning off the TV and reading a good book.

“Reading helps you improve, so when you are in high school and college you are a great reader,” the fourth-grader at Brent Elementary School in Southeast says. “I want to study science when I get older. I want to study meteor showers and volcanoes.”

He is one of more than 3,000 students being motivated by Everybody Wins! DC, a nonprofit organization that began in 1995 to promote children’s literacy.

Based in Northwest, it is the largest grass-roots children’s literacy and mentoring program in the metropolitan area, serving 26 Title I public elementary schools in the District, three in Montgomery County and one in Arlington County.

Nine-year-old D’Angelo and his tutor, Aaron Jenkins of Southeast, meet once a week to read together. Mr. Jenkins, 24, who works in Sen. John Kerry’s office on Capitol Hill, spends his lunch hour with D’Angelo as part of the Everybody Wins! DC Power Lunch program. They recently finished a book in K.A. Applegate’s “Animorphs” series.

“I don’t know if I was reading as well as D’Angelo when I was in fourth grade,” Mr. Jenkins says. “He always surprises me with his reading level. I enjoy spending time with him.”

About 1,400 adults volunteer as readers for the Power Lunch program, says Mary Salander, executive director of Everybody Wins! DC. Fifteen schools in the metropolitan area participate in the program every day. More than 100 organizations have employees reading in the program, including members of federal agencies and Congress.

In addition to reading, mentoring takes place during the lunch hour, motivating the children to do the best that they can, she says.

“If the test of society is what kind of future we leave for our children, this is a testimony of what people can do to help kids with their successes,” Ms. Salander says. “You tell the child, ‘You’re beautiful. You’re smart. You can do anything you want.’”

In the Everybody Wins! DC Readers are Leaders program, 200 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders read to first-, second- and third-graders during lunch, she says. Eight schools in the region take part in this activity.

“The older children want to be positive role models in the younger children’s lives,” Ms. Salander says. “They know they’ve been chosen as leaders in the school.”

During the Story Time program, another event sponsored by Everybody Wins! DC, professional storytellers give group presentations designed to excite children about reading, she says. The students take home books related to the program, to help increase their home libraries.

“Statistics show how kids who have books in their homes do better academically,” Ms. Salander says. “There are fewer books in low-income homes. They don’t have the money for them. There is not the emphasis on books and reading.”

When the U.S. Department of Education did a 1-year study on the influence of Everybody Wins! DC, research showed academic and behavior improvements, she says. It also found that the children were checking more books out of the school library.

Books should be important in every family, says Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat. He is one of the volunteer readers for the Power Lunch program.

“My mother always read with us,” Mr. Kennedy says. “Reading is the key to education. Education is the key to opportunity.”

Inspired by his brother, President John F. Kennedy, Mr. Kennedy says he visits second-grader Nicole Campbell, 7, at Brent Elementary School on most Tuesdays. President Kennedy asked his Cabinet to speak twice a year in public schools, Mr. Kennedy says.

Nicole and Mr. Kennedy recently completed “The Day I Was Rich” by Bill Cosby. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl is next on their list of must-read books.

When Nicole comes across a difficult word, such as “eligible,” Mr. Kennedy helps her look up the meaning in the Scholastic Children’s Dictionary.

“Reading is my favorite thing,” Nicole says. “I just like it so much that I can’t stop reading.”

Amii Young, 9, a fourth-grade student at Brent Elementary School, says her imagination soars when she reads. Her Power Lunch mentor is Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat. They are currently reading “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis.

In December, first lady Laura Bush invited 18 Everybody Wins! DC reading pairs to the White House for a private screening of the recent movie based on the book.

“My favorite part is when Lucy finds the land of Narnia, and she goes with the faun to his house,” Amii says. “The faun tricks her, but finally helps her out, and she gets home safely.”

Reading aloud helps students practice pronouncing their words, Mr. Harkin says.

“I grew up at a time when we didn’t have TV,” he says. “I feel it’s so vitally important for kids to understand what reading can open up for them. They should get a good grounding at an early age.”

The mentors may be the only adults all week that read with the children, says Shirley Farrow, senior school coordinator for Everybody Wins! DC at Brent Elementary School. Of the 233-member student body, 144 students have mentors. It was the first school in the metropolitan area to host a Power Lunch.

“Our goal is to raise enthusiasm about reading,” Mrs. Farrow says. “We are here to keep the love for reading going.”

The Everybody Wins! DC programs enhance overall classroom curriculums, says Lucinda Mulzac, program manger for the Power Lunch program. The activities have increased school attendance, she says. The teachers refer the children for the program.

“The children are learning life skills outside of the classroom,” Miss Mulzac says. “They look forward to coming to school on the days their mentors will be coming.”

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