by Clarissa Hardcastle
United We Serve: Let’s Read! Let’s Move! is a campaign First Lady Michelle Obama began in 2009 and launched in 2010. Its mission is to combat summer learning loss and childhood obesity by reading to children and educating them about health and exercise. It encourages adults to volunteer as well by providing healthy, affordable food for youth in their area, starting book drives, and more. The events themselves take place at an outdoor plaza at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., and they involve Cabinet members, public officials, and celebrities reading to and participating in physical activities with preschool and elementary age students from various schools and centers in the D.C. area.
“Far too many children lose reading skills over the summer when schools aren't in session,” said Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has participated in all but one of the events. “The way to reverse this trend is to keep students reading throughout the summer by encouraging them to find books that ignite their interests and imagination, which will fuel their passion to read even more. And parents can show their love of reading by reading to their kids on a regular basis.”
Guest speaker and Washington Redskin Chris Draft participated in the third of six events that followed the official launch in 2010. As the author of the children’s book Do You Want to Play Catch and a national spokesperson for the Parent Teacher Association, Draft recognizes the importance of the Let’s Read! Let’s Move! campaign. “In order for young people to succeed in life, we have to give them all the right tools needed for them to do so,” he said. “We have to remind our kids to read, exercise, and eat right.”
The 2011 series consisted of four events spread throughout July. Games, staff, and other resources were provided by the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington PHD (Physical, Healthy, Driven) program, while Target Corporation contributed books and healthy snacks and Nickelodeon donated cookbooks and pedometers. Guest speakers included NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, musician Eleanor Friedberger of Fiery Furnaces, and author and President Obama's half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, reading stories such as Mina Javaherbin’s Goal and Soetoro-Ng’s own book Ladder to the Moon.
Secretary Duncan hosted the 2012 series of four events alongside a variety of guests, including Personal Chef to the First Family Samuel Kass on July 11, actor and Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton and Miss America Laura Kaeppeler on July 18, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona on July 25, and former Washington Redskins player Brian Mitchell on July 30. Mitchell took the opportunity to discuss and promote “Fuel Up to Play 60,” an in-school program sponsored by the National Football League and the National Dairy Council which encourages good nutrition and sixty minutes of physical exercise each day. Duncan and the other speakers read to the visiting students, accepted questions, and then participated in games and physical activities funded by the series’ partner, the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington PHD (Physical, Healthy, Driven) program. The YMCA’s partner Giant Food provided a fruit and vegetable tasting station for every event. Healthy snacks and a new free book for every child were contributed by Target Corporation and its partnership with First Book.
“You don’t have to be a professional writer to tell a story,” Soetoro-Ng told a group of students during the third event in 2011. “So go out and tell a story!”
LeVar Burton, Laura Kaeppeler, and Arne Duncan read to children.
Clarissa Hardcastle is the strategic communications department intern at the International Reading Association.