CONCORD, N.H. – New Hampshire Department of Education (NHED) Commissioner Frank Edelblut has one word for the youth of New Hampshire: “read.”
Edelblut joined officials from the New Hampshire State Library, students, educators and other experts at a kickoff event at the New Hampshire State Library on Wednesday for National Reading Month, noting that the word “read” can provide children with countless exciting journeys.
While the campaign’s primary goal is to encourage and promote the love of reading among early learners and their parents and caregivers, the state also hopes to solidify and grow its reading proficiency through the Science of Reading. Although New Hampshire still ranks near the top nationally, assessment results in the state have dipped from 56% of students scoring proficient or above in reading in 2019 to 52% in 2021.
Deborah Dutcher, Library Services Consultant with the New Hampshire State Library, highlighted New Hampshire’s long history in promoting reading. She noted that State Library, having been established in 1717, is the oldest such institution in the nation. New Hampshire is home to 234 free public libraries.
“As a librarian, it should come as no surprise to find me promoting reading as both aspirational and functional,” she said. “Why is reading good for you? Reading improves our focus, memory, empathy and communication skills. Reading boosts our imagination and can open windows to whole new worlds. By reading we not only discover how others live, we also learn how we might live better or differently. Reading gives us hope.”
As a seventh-grade student at Cooperative Middle School in Stratham, Will Garstka, 13, understands both the aspirational and functional importance of reading. That’s why he was happy to talk about his own love of reading at Wednesday’s event.
“When you’re still in school, you read every day in the classroom, when studying or doing your homework,” Garstka said. “But sometimes it’s easy to forget all the reading we do when we’re having fun or socializing. We’re reading when we’re on our cell phones, texting, playing video games or repeating song lyrics. Living life is all about reading.”
Danielle Catabia, a reading, writing and learning disability specialist with the Windham School District, has spent years on the front lines working to instill a passion for reading that will last a lifetime. She previously led an effort to build a reading “igloo” out of 441 empty milk jugs that students used as an engaging place to explore reading nonfiction and informational text.
“While becoming an enthusiastic reader begins in the home, it grows in schools, libraries, on a park bench or in a comfy chair — or even in a milk jug igloo,” said Catabia, who spent part of her career overseeing literacy initiative training for Nashua teachers. “We need to expand our definition of reading and where we do it. Reading happens everywhere.”
Kathleen McCaffery, a former teacher and currently the ELA consultant with NHED, stressed the importance of encouraging reading discussion at home to build foundational skills. McCaffery noted that literacy means more than just reading with a child. Interactive facial expressions, explaining tasks while pointing and naming objects, playing games and singing with children all help to improve early literacy.
“Reading is like a sport. In order to love a sport and play well, young athletes need strong training and extensive practice, as well as parents and caregivers who transport them and cheer them on,” said McCaffery. “With the support of parents, caregivers and educators, together we can instill a love of reading in our children.”
More details on the initiative can be found at https://nhlovesreading.org/.