March 2, 2020
Tucked away in Lawrence Township, just across the street from Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park, third graders at Brook Park Elementary School hurried outside to line up at the bus in the middle of the school day. Most of us can recall the days we went on field trips as some of our favorite grade school memories.
Jill Fletchall’s ReadUP students’ field trip to Booth Tarkington’s Civic Theatre to enjoy a performance of Dr. Seuss’s, The Cat in the Hat won’t soon be forgotten, either. The play, directed by former Broadway performer and Instructor of Dance at Ball State University Anne Beck, was originally produced by the National Theatre in London. This year’s showtimes began on February 25 and will continue through March 5.
Fletchall received tickets for her students to the event through United Way corporate partner PNC and their PNC Grow Up Great philanthropic initiative, which helps prepare children from birth to age five for success in school and life.
“This was the first live theater performance for many of these kids,” Fletchall shared with us in an exclusive interview. “I share my love of Dr. Seuss with them during ReadUP. Personally, I love The Lorax and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but the first book I remember reading was The Cat in the Hat, so they were excited to see these characters come to life.”
In her six years with ReadUP, first as a tutor at two different IPS schools before serving as a reading specialist, Fletchall has found that the program has become a source of stability and structure for students because their tutors are a consistent presence for them, something they don’t always receive at home.
“As a specialist, I get to witness the highs and lows of children – I receive a lot of hugs, smiles, and high fives,” she revealed. “But I also see kids that are upset about something that happened during the school day or at home, and to think I can help them in some small way or be the reason they smile is why I love my job.”
ReadUP simply would not be successful without its strong volunteer base, and corporate partners like Roche Diagnostics appreciate the return on investment that programs like ReadUP create in Central Indiana. Kevin Gara, ReadUP volunteer and chief product stewardship officer for Roche’s Group Safety, Security, Health and Environmental Protection Division, is now in his eighth year of volunteering with ReadUP. He learned about the program on United Way’s website.
“I have been blessed with a great education, family, career and life – but most of thekids I tutor are not so fortunate,” Gara stated. “Someone like me can’t change a child’s family life or socioeconomic circumstances, but I can help them learn to read, share my love of reading with them, and hopefully make them feel special. This program can literally change a child’s life.”
Kelsey Hobbs, communications consultant for Roche, commented on the United Way partnership and their support of Brook Park Elementary.
“Over the last eight years, Roche ReadUP volunteers have impacted nearly 200 third grade students and contributed more than 5,000 volunteer hours,” said Hobbs.“Our partnership with United Way enables students to learn to read at their grade level and teaches them that reading can be fun.”
As for Fletchall’s students, they loved seeing “Thing 1” and “Thing 2”, two of The Cat in the Hat’s most iconic characters, take the stage. Other students took the messages found in some of Seuss’s other books, like Green Eggs and Ham, to heart – citing that trying new things and never giving up even encouraged one student to try green eggs and ham once when it was offered in the school cafeteria.
“Events like these inspire kids to do things they may have never thought of,” Fletchall continued. “It encourages them to write and become better readers so they can pursue their dream careers later in life.”
While the power of literacy may be hard to put into words, perhaps one of Fletchall’s most memorable ReadUP stories is one that reminds us what Read Across America’s mission has always strived to achieve: a nation of diverse leaders. Fletchall’s work with one child, an English as a Second Language (ESL) student whose native language is Spanish, took an interest in the program and has since grown to love the excitement that can come from a storybook’s characters. Fletchall and two other tutors continue to support the student and watch him discover both a new language and a passion for reading.
“If we can encourage children to become better readers, we are setting them up for continued success,” Fletchall continued. “Through ReadUP, I get to work with the most caring people who genuinely want to help children. It is such a rewarding and fulfilling career for me – and I love what I do.”
The thankless work of our educators and volunteers is something United Way is proud to celebrate today, but also recognizes all year long. It’s a no-brainer that programs like United Way’s ReadUP are setting up future generations of leaders to succeed.
And Oh, the Places They’ll Go! *