NCAA Supports Literacy in Indianapolis by Encouraging Reading to Pets

Since 2016, the NCAA has been addressing the issue of low literacy rates through its reading incentive program called Readers Become Leaders. One of the cities that participates in this program is Indianapolis, where the NCAA hosts a competition called “Read to the Final Four.” In this challenge, schools compete to see which can log the most reading minutes over a 10-week period, similar to the March Madness tournament.

In addition to the “Read to the Final Four” challenge, the NCAA also partners with local TV station WISH in Indianapolis for an “I Love to Read” challenge. This challenge specifically targets third graders and encourages them to track their daily reading time. More than 30 schools from five districts in Indianapolis participated this year. The NCAA provides incentives for students and schools to participate, such as Scholastic Books, Visa gift cards, and invitations to college basketball games.

Each third grader attending the Indiana-Purdue-Spalding University game on Nov. 6 was given a free book from Scholastic. (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis)

Indiana has been experiencing a decline in reading scores over the past decade. This year, the state’s Reading Evaluation and Determination (IREAD-3) test showed that third-graders’ scores only increased by 0.3% from last year, reaching a proficiency rate of 81.9%. This number has remained stagnant for several years. To address this issue, the state passed HB 1558, a bill that focuses on phonics instruction rather than relying heavily on context clues and guessing. The NCAA aims to support teachers by encouraging students to spend more time reading, as third graders who struggle with reading are more likely to face challenges in high school graduation.

A few weeks ago, nearly 5,000 enthusiastic third graders attended a basketball game between Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Spalding University at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. During this event, famous celebrities like Taylor Swift and Usher delivered messages promoting the importance of daily reading. Indiana-Purdue won the game 70-63, and the third graders have been invited to another game hosted by Butler University on Nov. 20.

Indiana-Purdue beat Spalding University 70-63 on Nov. 6 to start the regular season. (Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis)

During the game, which was preceded by a pep rally, each student received a free book to take home. Other prizes include credits from Scholastic and new books for school and classroom libraries.

Messages from student athletes and celebrities played during timeouts and halftime encouraging the third graders to continue reading daily. (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis)

The NCAA developed the literacy program in response to concerns raised by superintendents from Indianapolis’s four school districts regarding the impact of the national reading crisis on their schools. The program was first launched in Houston in 2016, with over 7,000 students from Title I schools participating. Since then, more than 300,000 students nationwide have taken part in the program.

“We don’t want to take credit for what the teachers do, but they did say the competition really sparked an interest in a lot of the kids, and they saw kids reading who hadn’t been reading before,” said Victor Hill, the NCAA’s associate director of inclusion, education, and community engagement. “They sent us pictures of kids reading during lunch, during recess, and the school library saw a spike in books being checked out.”

Nearly 5,000 students from five school districts attended the basketball game at Indiana Farmers Coliseum on Nov. 6. (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis)

In Indianapolis, the response from students and teachers has been incredibly positive, even from students who are not in the third grade. The competition creates a sense of excitement throughout the entire school as they cheer on the third graders to read as much as possible. However, one of the biggest challenges is getting parents involved in at-home reading. The NCAA uses ads on WISH-TV, as well as announcements made to parents during pep rallies and basketball games, to encourage families to read with their children for at least 30 minutes a day. The hope is that the enthusiasm for reading continues even when students are at home.

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

“During our pep rallies, we tell the children, ‘If your parents, your brothers or sisters are busy, if you’ve got a cat or a dog, sit and read to them. Read to your goldfish. Just read,'” Hill said.

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

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