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Often, it’s the little things that mean a lot. Sometimes, they can mean everything.

Putting a clean, crisp, new book into the hands of a third-grader who’s attending summer school might seem like a small thing. But for that at-risk child, who has perhaps never owned a book before, taking home — and getting to keep — a new book each week for five weeks in a row just might change the direction and shape of that kid’s life.

Welcome to the 2017 version of the Read Up Madison Fund, a communitywide fundraising effort designed to increase literacy and improve reading habits, especially among at-risk children, but including kids and families of all types, all across our city.

“The sheer access to books, that’s the most impressive piece of this project,” said Briony MacPhee Lyon, coordinator of summer school for the Madison School District.

The school district, via its Madison School and Community Recreation program, has partnered for three years on the Read Up summer school initiative with the United Way of Dane County and the Madison Public Library. This year, the Madison Reading Project is also in the partners’ mix, which will help provide even more books to more students and families.

“The fact that the books are brand new, high-interest, self-selected, age appropriate and reading-level appropriate just really makes it work,” MacPhee Lyon said.

After a terrific launch in spring 2016, the corporate partners of the Read Up Madison Fund are back for a second year, with hopes of even more success this time around.

The campaign is led by the Wisconsin State Journal and WISC-TV, and was formed as something of an echo to the Schools of Hope project the two media entities launched in Madison 20 years ago. Other early supporters of this year’s campaign include Madison Gas and Electric Co. and M3 Insurance.

The ripple effects of the original Schools of Hope initiative are still felt today, via a far-reaching volunteer-in-school program that touches many classrooms in the metro area. Our hope is that the Read Up Madison Fund will follow a similar pattern and ultimately make a difference in closing Madison’s academic achievement gap for years to come.

“After reviewing the results from last year’s campaign and the impact it made on kids and families to stop the summer slide, we decided once again to partner with our friends at the Wisconsin State Journal to build on the momentum,” said Tom Keeler, vice president and general manager for Morgan Murphy Media, which includes WISC-TV, and Madison Magazine.

Last year’s Read Up Madison Fund raised more than $88,000, a number sparked by the corporate donors but that also included more than 500 additional contributions of all sizes from community members. This spring, we’re hoping to raise $100,000, which will expand the program this summer and sustain it into the future.

Here are a few more interesting numbers about the Read Up project:

  • 585 — the number of students served across four sites last summer (up from two sites and 418 students the year before), each of whom got to take home five free books.
  • 752 — the total number of students who received free books, thanks to including additional kids at one other summer school site who weren’t officially in the program.
  • 86 percent — the number of students in the program who qualify as low income.
  • 88 percent — the number of participating third- to fifth-grade students who maintained or improved their summer school assessment scores, at a time when such scores typically “slide” over the summer months.
  • 6 — the number of sites projected for summer 2017.
  • 1,000 — the number of kids we hope to reach with five new books this summer.

“To see such an overwhelming response from the community is so humbling,” said Alyssa Ignaczak, assistant director of strategic collaborations for United Way. “We’re grateful to play a part in connecting the community with kids who are eager to learn and grow over the summer.”

The fund-raising campaign is scheduled to run from today through April 1. Please help if you can, and know that you’ll be playing a small part in something really big.

John Smalley is editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. He can be reached at 608-252-6104 or


John Smalley is the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.