By West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple, Ed.D
We watched in recent weeks as athletes across the world achieved greatness at the Olympic Summer Games. Americans accomplished great things in London, bringing home 104 medals, 46 of them gold.
The Olympics carry a message about skill, hard work, pushing oneself to the limits and relentlessly pursuing greatness. That determined pursuit of greatness is not just for a talented few; it is something that we all can strive to achieve.
None exhibit that spirit more than Nathan Sorrell, a 12-year-old middle-school student from London, Ohio, who became the star of a Nike commercial that salutes fitness feats of ordinary people. At 5-feet-3, 200 pounds, Nathan doesn’t seem like someone Nike would laud in an ad campaign. Yet, there he is slowly and steadily running down a country road at dawn in an image of physical struggle and pure determination as a narrator speaks of greatness “we’re all capable of it. All of us.”
As we begin a new school year in West Virginia, the challenge is for each and every parent, guardian, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend and community member to determine how we will support our children in finding their own greatness. Within every child there are aspirations and dreams that require nourishment. As adults and mentors, we must support our children’s aspirations through educational opportunity, encouragement and high expectations.
As I visited schools this past year and talked with students, I noted the lack of reading our children are doing outside of the school setting. We know our children must perform better academically and on standardized test measures to achieve their aspirations. Can they really accomplish their aspirations if they are not encouraged and expected to read good books every single day?
The more children read, the greater their vocabulary, the more they know and the better they perform. If we are to improve student performance, we must change this complacency about reading. This is not a job just for those within the school building!
To regain the lost pleasure and skill of reading good literature, everyone has to model and encourage children to read every day – books, magazines, newspapers – any publication. One way we are focusing on reading is through Read WV. This is our effort to encourage children and the adults in their lives to make reading a priority and to ensure that students read every day. We must have an expectation that not only do we read in school, we expect our children to read outside of school. And we as educators, parents and mentors to our children also must read.
When adults read, we set good examples for our children and we send the message that reading is expected. This expectation permeates to all subjects and helps our children find success in school, in college, in careers and in life.
It is not enough to be able to recognize words; we have to think about instilling in each and every child a love of reading that will last a lifetime. The West Virginia Department of Education has many reading resources available on our Read WV website at www.readwv.com.
Learning is a 24/7 process and what each of us do and expect can assist in making our children’s aspirations a reality. We must help our children embrace the concept that learning occurs anytime and anywhere and reading is core to achievement. Our Learn21 website at www.learn21wv.com is designed to encourage our children in learning opportunities anytime, anywhere.
The site offers learning resources to get extra help in a subject or to explore new topics in multiple subjects from preschool through 12th grade. Learn21 gives students the opportunity to take a more active role in their own education. When students take responsibility for their own learning, they become more engaged and eager to learn.
Daily our students are surrounded with unsuitable, negative messages about health, wellness, student responsibility and expectations. It is important that we become a team of adult stakeholders who are focused on sending the right message to children and that message certainly must include a belief in the greatness that exists within each and every child; an understanding that what we do and say matters to the success of our children; and an expectation that we will read every day and so will our children.
In a world where knowledge is power and literacy is the skill that unlocks the gates of opportunity, we all have a responsibility to instill in our children a love of reading so that we can give them the chance to achieve their aspirations and ultimately fulfill their dreams. Let’s begin this new school year by pledging to work together to help all of West Virginia’s children find their own greatness.