The Hawkeyes' Read to Grow Program

Oct. 19, 2006

IOWA CITY – Head Coach Steve Alford and the Iowa men’s basketball team understand the importance of a solid education. The student side of being a student-athlete is something the coaching staff takes very seriously. That’s why it’s no surprise that the men’s basketball program reaches out to numerous elementary students in the Iowa City area to teach the importance of reading.

Iowa’s Read to Grow program, which was started by Alford in his first season at Iowa, is just one of several activities members of the program are involved in to give back to the Iowa City community.

The Read to Grow program involves Iowa coaches and players visiting four different elementary schools in the Iowa City area each year. Players visit with third grade students, sharing some of their life experiences and reading selections from different books.

During their visits, both players and coaches discuss the importance of reading before sharing three to four pages of books supplied by the team (which are autographed). Volunteers from the class are also invited to read with the players.

The books are then left at the school library where students are encouraged to check them out and finish them on their own. Students are challenged to read as many books as possible and members of the basketball team return to the schools in April to do a follow-up. At that time, students are encouraged to use local public libraries during the summer to keep up their reading.

Sophomore Tony Freeman picks a volunteer during a Read to Grow session.

With all the schools that participate, tickets to Iowa basketball games are left with the class along with autographs. Teachers are encouraged to have contests that involve the students and their reading to determine how the tickets are distributed.

Perry O. Ross, director of instruction for the Iowa City Community School District, appreciates the time and effort the Iowa men’s basketball program shows towards the elementary schools.

“We think the program has a very positive impact on our students,” Ross said. “We are impressed by the athlete’s willingness to take time out of their busy schedules to enhance the lives of our students.”

Julie Busch, and elementary teacher at Mark Twain Elementary in Iowa City, said her students both look forward to the visits and now have solid role models.

“Our students and staff enjoy meeting members of the basketball team,” Busch said. “It is so important for our students to have positive role models. My students are excited about this program. The players are great motivators.”

Alford, who also participates in the Read to Grow program, likes the interaction between the players and coaches and the elementary students.

“The Read to Grow program is a neat process that gets young students involved and motivated to read by using the influence of our basketball players,” Alford said. “It’s a great program for our players as well. It gets the guys out in the community schools and allows great interaction with elementary school children.”

Junior Seth Gorney with elementary students during a Read to Grow program.

Alford also understands what a program like Read to Grow can do for the lives of elementary students.

“The program is something my father, Sam, started when we were at Southwest Missouri State,” Alford said. “We both felt the importance of reading and felt this was a good way for students to enjoy good books and form good reading habits at an early age.”

The Read to Grow program is now in its seventh year at Iowa. Over 300 elementary students a year have had the chance to meet their Hawkeye heroes and chat over a good book. Some of these students have been fortunate enough to watch their heroes in action on the hardwood at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

With Iowa’s Read to Grow program, elementary students around Iowa City can now say they have met their Hawkeye heroes. Through these meetings, Coach Alford and his players can stress how important reading actually is. Elementary students might not realize it right away, but teaching a child how to read is more heroic than any move on a basketball court.