read up

Published February 14, 2016

It’s not much of a leap to think that many local residents would like to do something to help close the Madison School District’s decades-old achievement gap.

And many would also love to contribute to an effort to slow the dreaded “summer slide,” when students often regress academically during the out-of-school months.

We now have a chance to do just that — in the form of a project called the Read Up! Madison Fund.

Today, the Wisconsin State Journal and WISC-TV are launching an effort to raise money for a promising summer reading program directed at the K-5 age group. Read Up! is a two-summers-old program that puts books into the hands, and homes, of children who often are most at risk academically.

It also provides structured activities around reading, as well as outreach to families to encourage a love of reading in the household. So far, it is showing measurable results in improving reading scores.

“It’s so wonderful,” said Krissy Wick, youth services manager at the Madison Public Library, one of the handful of quality partners in the Read Up! program. “For many kids, even some third-graders, it’s the first book they’ve ever owned. It’s pretty moving to see that happen.”

Imagine a child who’s never owned a book getting to choose not just one, but five shiny new books from the shelf that meet his or her interests and reading level. Ponder for a moment the excitement and energy involved as that child takes them home and starts his or her very own library.

The program costs about $10,000 to run per site. So far, it has operated at two of the 16 summer school sites in the Madison district that have been identified as having children who need extra reading support. We hope you will consider joining us in raising money to expand Read Up! to more sites this summer.

While closing the well-documented academic achievement gap between white kids and kids of color is complicated and complex, to say the least, the essence of the Read Up! program is simple: Is there a better idea than giving books to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have them?

Even more, the Read Up! program focuses on the family unit, and helps parents understand the need to read in the home, especially during the summer months when children can head in the wrong direction academically.

The State Journal and WISC-TV decided to launch the Read Up! Madison Fund as a means of commemorating the Schools of Hope project started by the two media outlets just over 20 years ago. Schools of Hope started as a civic journalism project and grew into a respected tutoring effort aimed at closing the district’s achievement gap.

Among the many things we like about the Read Up! initiative is that it represents the best of collaboration and direct intervention with many young, at-risk students. The summer program involves the school district, Madison School and Community Recreation, United Way and the Madison Public Library, from which the original summer reading program was hatched.

And thanks to efforts by United Way of Dane County, the reading/free books program will also spread to two suburban districts — Sun Prairie and Middleton — with pilot sites this summer, and hopefully to more districts in years to come.

To get the Read Up! Madison Fund started, the State Journal and WISC are each making $5,000 contributions. Together, that $10,000 donation will fund one more site this summer. We hope that hundreds, maybe thousands, of like-minded citizens will join us by supporting the Read Up! Madison Fund with a donation.

Just like books, and the kids who read them, donations are welcome in all sizes and sure to make a difference. Thank you for any help you can provide as together we try to grow a proven, useful program to a scale that will serve more kids who need our help.

John Smalley is editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. He can be reached at 608-252-6104 or at