Picking up a book and reading just for fun is the message behind Project READ, a schoolwide reading initiative that kicked off at the beginning of the school year at Absegami High School.

READ, which stands for "Reading to Explore Absegami's Diversity," is the brainchild of English teacher Jaime Howey, who wrote the initial grant proposal to get funding for the project.

"Our first year so far has been really successful," said Howey, who has been at Absegami for 14 years. "The students have been really enjoying it. I think they remembered that reading isn't only for homework, but can be for pure enjoyment."

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As presented, Project READ is a year-long, schoolwide initiative advancing the idea of reading for fun in all grade levels. Students are encouraged to read, then given opportunities to get together outside school hours for activities, discussions, programs and special events.

Based on the recommendations of a committee of teachers, books are ordered from the company Better World Books, whose mission is to "utilize the value of the book to fund literacy initiatives locally, nationally and around the world." Students can borrow the books to read at their leisure.

"The teaching staff has really been on board with the program by encouraging students to read more outside of the classroom," Howey said. "They understand that reading for fun is as beneficial to students as reading assigned for homework."

The program introduces four cycles, or themes, a year. So far, book titles have featured Hispanic and Asian/Middle Eastern stories, and the program recently completed a series focusing on works about the African and African American experience to relate to a schoolwide initiative celebrating Black History Month.

On Feb. 26, the READ committee hosted guest speaker Jackie Sarner, an employee of the Galloway Public Schools District who has traveled to Uganda to support the organization Real Partners Uganda, a nonprofit that works to address the root causes of poverty in East Africa.

"It was a good tie-in because READ participants sold bookmarks to raise funds that went to Real Partners Uganda to promote literacy among Uganda's youth," explained Howey.

Project READ ends the school year by featuring the theme of women's literature. The program recently held a launch party in the school library to present the book titles to students. The committee also plans to host a special program to celebrate World Book Day on April 23.

"I'm so proud of the way students have responded and the word has spread about READ," said Howey. "Now they are looking for more things to read."

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