A recent Saturday began gray and overcast, a chilly portent. But as the day warmed and sunlight poured through clouds, hundreds of kids with bright eyes and ecstatic smiles filtered into the Literacy Rally at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth.Preparations began weeks ago. Members of Heights’ Student Literacy Committee, which was founded this year, spent lunch periods and long hours after school decorating, organizing and dreaming with one goal in mind: sharing the power of literacy.Our internally developed literacy initiative, STING, has been in place for more than a year. It’s a program that aims to increase the amount of reading students do and boost their comprehension of strenuous nonfiction passages.STING has spread to the middle schools and elementary schools that feed into Arlington Heights, creating an education pyramid aimed at dramatically changing the way this community values the ability to read, write and speak well.The importance and appreciation of literacy blossomed at the rally April 27.The four-hour event filled the Arlington Heights campus with a performance stage, booths, a football field of activities and a gym-turned-reading-room. Children and their families could visit a petting zoo, launch rockets, watch chemistry experiments, do karate, climb inside a firetruck, meet police on horseback, dress up in SWAT gear, create jewelry, view performances by various school groups, spend one-on-one time reading with a high school student and get free books. It all supported the idea that literacy is not just a blessing or a buzzword, but a necessity.The turnout astonished the Student Literacy Committee members and was far greater than the adults involved had anticipated.We estimated that, over the course of the day, more than 1,000 school-age kids attended and that 3,500 books were given to children free, thanks to Score A Goal In The Classroom, an organization dedicated to raising the level of education and motivating students to achieve in school and become more responsible citizens.Many curious community members even came over from the grocery store and shops across the street. The sea of smiling faces was an irresistible sight.As high school students read stories to the children and worked through articles with them, a bond was formed over the love of something infinitely grander than any of us: creating a network of this nation’s future leaders, those who have risen above the rest to promote a fundamental skill for success.With such a positive response to STING and the rally, Arlington Heights plans to make the event annual. The literacy initiative began with the innovative minds of school Principal Jason Oliver and outstanding teachers, and has grown. There is no telling and no stopping how far this pro-literacy campaign is going to reach. We've set a new standard; now we’re making it a tradition.
Sarah Chapman is a junior at Arlington Heights High School and president of the Student Literacy Committee.