Read to Achieve: Giving High-Risk Kids Hope

The U.S. Dream Academy puts kids on a path of love, peace—and reading.

Read to Achieve: Giving High-Risk Kids Hope

How the U.S. Dream Academy is helping children on a path of love, peace, truth—and reading.

By Nina Hämmerling Smith, Weston, Connecticut

WEB EXCLUSIVE

Renowned vocalist and pastor Wintley Phipps has performed for American presidents and dignitaries around the world, but it was singing for prison inmates that perhaps touched him most—particularly seeing the dearth of hope in the eyes of children visiting their incarcerated parents.

That's what spurred him, in 1998, to form the U.S. Dream Academy to empower children to achieve in school—and in life, thus breaking the cycle of incarceration. Parents and teachers in select schools from "some of the highest-crime ZIP codes in the country," according to the U.S. Dream Academy's Director of Development Angela Hunt Bonitto, can sign up children to get additional support after school. The program is free to parents.

The program targets kids "when they start to fall through the cracks," says Executive Director C. Diane Wallace Booker, between third and eighth grade. "Reading comprehension is so critical to a student's success in school" and in later life. By elevating their reading skills, the kids' grades improve; they have better school attendance records; and they're better behaved in class.

Launched at the end of October, the Read to Achieve Read-a-thon is part of the effort to help kids fall in love with reading. The 600 students currently enrolled in the program will each be logging 2,400 minutes of reading over eight weeks, with the goal of reaching a collective 1 million minutes by December 20.

Through their effort, the U.S. Dream Academy intends to bring attention to the illiteracy problem in this country and raise funds—they are asking people to pledge $5 or more—toward keeping their afterschool programs afloat and transforming their reading corners into bright, cheery spaces that will beckon kids to keep reading.

Literacy is one piece of a puzzle, says Booker; the program also focuses on character-building (nonviolence, choosing love, peace and truth) and dream-building (helping children visualize a positive future for themselves). "We're trying to help these kids see reading as a way to personal development."