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Hawkeyes lead literacy effort in local schools

BY HOLLY HINES | APRIL 20, 2010 7:30 AM

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When Iowa football player Julian Vandervelde was a kid, he liked to read The Berenstein Bears and Curious George.

But in lieu of Curious George, Vandervelde settled for a dramatic reading of Aliens are Coming to a classroom of third- and fourth-graders at Twain Elementary, 1355 DeForest Ave., on Monday.

After reading, he and quarterback James Vandenberg answered questions, such as “Can you do 30 push-ups?” from a group of roughly 20 curious kids.

Vandervelde and five other Hawkeye football players visited three classrooms at Twain on Monday morning as part of a new program to promote student literacy, said Jeanette Pilak, the executive director of the UNESCO City of Literature initiative.

The reading program, which started Monday and will run through May, was organized by the Hawkeye football team, the Iowa City School District, and City of Literature officials, Pilak said.
Football players will visit Wood Elementary, 1930 Lakeside Drive, sometime in the next month.

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“Being a kid, I read a lot. My mom insisted on it,” said Vandervelde, who is an English major.
He said he chose to participate in the program because reading has always been important to him.

He thinks reading is especially important for students in Iowa City because of the city’s status as an International City of Literature, he said.

Iowa City became the world’s third UNESCO City of Literature in November 2008. In order to retain the title, local officials have planned a handful of programs and events, including a book fair on the University of Iowa campus in July 2009.

Pilak said officials involved in the reading program hope to include other Iowa City schools in the program next fall and to eventually expand to include other districts in Iowa. The visits this spring will serve as a test run to figure out how to smoothly organize the program, she said.

Twain Principal Mary Bontrager said officials hope the initiative will include more one-on-one interaction between football players and students in the future.

The first day of the program went well, she said, and she overheard football players reading great book choices.

“I thought it would be an opportunity for kids to see some of their heroes reading great books,” she said.

But many children at Twain are new to Iowa City and may not be familiar with the Hawkeyes, she said. Meeting with the football players may help them connect with the local community, she said.
Iowa football player Andy Schulze said the program was a good opportunity for him and his teammates to increase the students’ excitement about reading.

“They seemed like they were having a blast,” he said.

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