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Serving Brain Food for Lunch

Giving up your lunch hour to read with kids could create a new generation of bookworms. According to a 2007...

Giving up your lunch hour to read with kids could create a new generation of bookworms.According to a 2007 Department of Education study, only half of low-income fourth graders read proficiently for their grade level. (That's compared to 79 percent of their middle-class peers.) More alarming is that this literacy gap begins at home, before educators even have a chance to help.Enter Everybody Wins, a literacy intervention effort based in Washington, D.C. Its flagship endeavor, known as "Power Lunch," attacks the literacy gap by supplying the positive reading experiences that some children miss out on. The program matches volunteers-mostly working professionals-in participating cities with elementary school children of low-income families. Every week of the school year volunteers spend one of their lunch hours visiting their students at school and reading to them. The goal: Create a positive association with books and foster the motivation that kids need to learn to read. "We're not a tutoring program; we're not a reading instruction program," says Rich Greif, executive director of Everybody Wins USA. "The pure focus of our programs is to get kids enthusiastic about reading."Currently, Power Lunch serves more than 6,000 students in more than 150 schools in 16 states and Washington, D.C. Grief says the continued organic growth of the program, which began in 1991 with five readers at one New York City school, is evidence of its success. There's hard data, too: A 2005 study of the Chicago Power Lunch program found that 64 percent of Power Lunch-ing students in grades 1 through 3 achieved grade-promoting reading proficiency. (Only 38 percent of their nonparticipating peers hit that benchmark.) "That's really the best you can hope for," Greif says, "that they stay on track with their progress and get promoted to the next grade."Photo courtesy of Everybody Wins! USAReturn to the interactive site

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