Knicks Make Reading Spooky and Fun
Noone could argue with that -- but the fact is that "Read to Achieve" is a league-wide NBA initiative that is much more than "just" fun. "This year, I am paying a lot of attention to raising our standardized test scores," P.S 123 principal Edith Bly Jenkins said. "That's why I chose the fourth grade -- they will be tested in English Language Arts on February 1 -- for this event. An event such as this serves as a huge motivational component to our program. The kids are thrilled, just ecstatic to have a chance to come here to Madison Square Garden and meet these players. They look up to them and really listen to their message."
Even better, besides five Knicks and Liberty forward Kim Hampton, other celebrities such as The Sopranos' "Uncle Junior" Dominic Chianese, famed street magician David Blaine, hit singer Kelis, MTV Host Sway, and Caroline Kennedy, the new Chief Executive of the NYC Department of Education Office of Strategic Partnerships were also at the "Experience" to spread the word about reading and learning.
And that's exactly the idea. "Basically, we want to use the power of celebrity to inspire kids to learn to love to read," VP of Community Relations and Fan Development Karin Buchholz said. "We want to create an excitement about reading at a very early age. We want to show how much fun, and how easy, it is to read. Research shows how important it is for adults to read with kids, and how much children enjoy it when an adult shows the way."
The NBA encourages each team to develop its own "Read to Achieve" slate -- and the Knicks work in close collaboration with the Department of Education in putting together their own particular program. "We try to be creative -- and we have a number of teachers and other former educators on staff as well," said Buchholz. "We pay very close attention to make our programs reading-plus. Whether it's arts, or playing Pictionary, or acting in skits, we always try to put another element into our presentation along with the reading-out-loud component. Kids have more fun, and learn more, that way."
At the Halloween Experience, the fourth-graders from PS 123 in Harlem and The Claremont School in Ossining (Westchester) read the book "Porkenstein" out loud along with the celebrities and players. Then the kids created and acted out a skit involving an unfortunate Knick player who encounters a witch while going to practice.
If all the excited chattering and the loads of laughter were any indication, the entire "Experience" turned out to be tons of fun. "Vo-o-o-owwww!" the tiny audience ooh-ed and aaah-ed in astonishment as 6-11 Michael Doleac walked up to the podium. "Look how huge he is!" one pint-sized aficionado shouted out as 6-9 Kurt Thomas was introduced.
"It's always good when we have our future sitting among us," MSG President of Sports Teams Steve Mills said. "You remind us of the promise of tomorrow. Reading opens up your future in ways you can't even imagine. It makes boundaries nonexistent. Growing up, all I wanted to do was play in the NBA. But I have my present job not due to my skills on the basketball floor but because my parents, thankfully, made sure that I was also reading and learning."
"I know how upset you all must be missing school this afternoon," a smiling Caroline Kennedy added. "I have a fourth grader at home so I know how it is. But remember, by learning you can be whatever you want to be. Believe me, reading can be as much fun as basketball. So we want school to be an exciting place where you WANT to be."
The first precondition of that, of course, has to be a group of wonderful teachers. "I want to acknowledge and thank every one of the teachers and principals here," GM Scott Layden said. "Your dedication is inspirational. You are the true heroes. I can see the passion in your eyes."
The kids all went home with their own copy of "Porkenstein"; in fact, the Knicks distribute hundreds of books at every "Read To Achieve" event. "That's the second part of our mission: to make sure that kids, especially in less fortunate areas that may not have many libraries or bookstores, will have access to books," Buchholz said. "Our goal is to create a culture where kids not only read in school to learn, but read regularly for pleasure outside of school as well."