‘So Many Amazing Stories’
LOWELL -- Inside Bill Haddad’s home office there is a pair of bookcases loaded with publications covering American war history -- from George Washington’s “Secret Six” spy ring during the Revolution to World War II’s D-Day invasion.
“There’s so many amazing stories,” Haddad said while standing alongside the collection.
Inside the Methuen home office, Haddad also shows off a folder growing thick with letters from children thanking him for sharing his appreciation for reading with them.
“Thank you for donating the book ‘Afternoon on the Amazon,’” one letter reads. “I will read it so much until it is done. I think it will be so good. I think I will laugh my head off.”
Haddad has donated the books through a nonprofit he created three years ago called On the Move Inc.
“It was something I had in the back of my mind for 30-plus years,” said Haddad, a certified public accountant. “I started getting older and decided I better do something.”
Through the program, Haddad and his wife Jan have worked together handing out more than 5,000 books to children in kindergarten to third grade. It’s only the beginning.
The organization is in the process of distributing more than 600 books to schools in the area, including to Moody and Abraham Lincoln elementary schools in Lowell.
During the first week of December, the books started arriving at the Haddad’s Methuen home, piling up among the Christmas decorations in the their living room, as well as on a pallat in their garage. The plan is to load the books into Jan’s van and deliver the brand-new books to the schools by hand.
“A lot of kids from low-income families don’t have books at home,” Bill said. “Over vacations and summertime they lose two to three months of reading skills that they’ve learned during the school year.”
Bill is describing the “summer slide.” The phenomenon is a decline in reading ability among youth that has a tendency to occur during summer vacation.
In 2013, the Annie E. Casey Foundation put out a report with research that shows children from low-income families who have access to books during the summer months counteract the summer-learning slide. It also improves state reading assessments scores. The largest effects were for the most economically disadvantaged children.
“We read to learn new information, develop language and communication skills, and spark curiosity and imagination,” said Roberta Keefe, principal of the Moody Elementary School.
“We work diligently to instill a love of reading in our students to inspire them to be lifelong readers, writers and thinkers,” Keefe added. “Mr. Haddad’s donation helps us to highlight the importance of reading books.”
Harvard Graduate School of Education -- which described it as an early-reading crises -- stated earlier this year that a student who fails to read in first grade has a 90 percent probability of reading poorly in fourth grade and a 75 percent probability of reading poorly in high school.
Studies have shown that reading and access to books is a key contributor to academic success in the U.S. It has also become well known that a lack of education is tied to future unemployment, poverty, incarceration and illness.
Bill shares numbers released that outline Massachusetts district profiles, established through the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System or MCAS testing. It shows 12 percent of third-grade students in the Lowell School District are not meeting reading expectations. Statewide, that total is 7 percent.
The numbers also shows that 45 percent of Lowell School District third-graders are only partially meeting expectations. The statewide total is 41 percent.
“if they can’t read at a third-grade level, it becomes more difficult getting into the fourth and fifth grade,” Bill said. “It only gets worst beyond that. It’s like preventative maintenance. If we can get them early, it gives them a better opportunity to get a good education and get a good career.”
The Haddads meet with elementary school teachers, principals and reading specialists in order to establish what books the students want based on their reading levels and their interests.
“We’re not one of the organizations that gives away a truckload of 40,000 books,” Jan said. “They are very specific books and are requested by the teachers, because the teachers can monitor them. They are the books kids want to read.”
Dana Huber, a literacy specialist at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, referenced a project funded by On the Move earlier this year to provide books for incoming kindergarten students.
“We always talk to kindergarten families about the importance of literacy at the kindergarten orientation,” Huber said. “It was really nice to be able to send each family home with two books.”
On the Move also works with area businesses and organizations like Boys and Girls Club. Bill pointed out they have provided police with books to hand out during their Lowell Police Department Safe Summer Movie nights. Another idea in the works includes giving police books to keep in their cruisers to hand out while on the street.
“We’re trying different things,” Bill said. “A kind of shotgun approach to find the most effective ways to get books into the hands of kids and to being sure they’re reading them.”
The program doesn’t stop at books. On the Move has also handed out roughly 60 bicycles, which come with helmet, lock and safety pamphlet.
“It builds up their self confidence, their self esteem,” Bill said. “And healthy body, healthy mind. It gives them a sense of purpose.”
“And it gives them a sense of freedom and independence,” Jan added.
For more information about On the Move, visit otminc.org .
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis