‘Real men’ reading to Verde Elementary students as part of literacy program

Want to know what it takes to be a real man?

Head over to Verde Elementary in North Richmond, where men in the community have been volunteering their time to read aloud to students.

For the past two months as part of the Real Men Read program, which is now in its second year at Verde, former student Lloyd Madden and fellow volunteer Ron Shaw have paid visits to the school in order to read to second-graders.

The idea is to inspire learning through positive male role models at the school, which with help from the North Richmond Network (NRN), a group of community partners and volunteers, is working to improve student performance. At the start of the school year, testing revealed that Verde students were two to three years behind in their grade level reading skills, according to officials.

On Friday, March 27, Madden and Shaw will be joined by about 15 other adults in reading in Verde classrooms.

Madden, who attended Verde as a student 55 years ago, says the program has been a rewarding experience and one he looks forward to each month. Like other readers in the program, Madden grew up in North Richmond and through the encouragement of his teachers and coaches achieved a college degree. He became a successful executive director and county employee who created jobs for local residents.

Shaw, who works at the Youth Service Bureau and YMCA, touts to students the value of reading and education.

“I let students know that reading is the foundation for everything else in education and life,” Shaw said. “As a black man, it was nearly impossible for my ancestors to have the opportunity to learn to read and write. Reading is a gift and we’re letting students know that it can be fun and exciting.”

Despite being one of the lowest performing schools in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, Verde is making a comeback with the help of first-year school principal Eric Acosta-Verprauskus and NRN.

We wrote about the revival earlier this month, when the school held an event to honor Dr. Suess’ 111th birthday — yet another strategy to inspire learning.

The school is also keeping track of how many words its children a reading monthly. In February, Verde students read 2.4 million words, up from 1.2 million the month before, officials said.

This month, in celebration of March Madness, students have been challenged to read 4.5 million words.

“Grade level reading scores are going up, discipline issues are going down, and volunteers in the Real Men Read program are working together to write a new success story for the school and community they love,” program officials said.

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