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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
March 16, 2006

Mrs. Bush and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings Announce the Newark Public Schools' Striving Readers' Grant
Avon Avenue Elementary School
Newark, New Jersey

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10:36 A.M. EST

SECRETARY SPELLINGS: Thank you very much, Dr. Gayles. (Applause.) It's great to be back in Newark. I was here a little less than a month ago, but it's always good to come back with a big check and a lot of good news. So I'm thrilled to be back here. (Applause.) And I know you're all glad to see me.

Mrs. Laura Bush and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings visit the Sixth Grade Language Arts Class at the Avon Avenue Elementary School, Thursday, March 16, 2006 in Newark, N.J., where Mrs. Bush announced a Striving Readers grant to Newark Public Schools.  White House photo by Shealah Craighead So thank you for the warm welcome here at Avon Avenue Elementary. And it's always delightful to be with my friend Mrs. Bush, our very wonderful First Lady, who you'll be hearing from in a minute. Bravo. (Applause.)

Thank you, Superintendent Bolden, Mayor, district officials, thank you for the warm welcome. And I'm delighted to be with you.

We know absolutely that students who cannot read well and read proficiently throughout their schooling are at risk of becoming disengaged, disaffected, and falling behind in their studies. And that's why we all know, of course, that reading is the essential skill -- the President calls it "the new civil right" -- throughout one's lifetime. And we just were able to see this in action in this very school. But our hope here today with the Newark Public Schools is to continue this reading as a building block throughout the schooling.

And that's why I am so pleased today to be announcing that Newark will receive nearly a nearly $15 million grant -- $14.8 million [sic] to continue this reading work in middle and high school. This school district is one of eight in the country. We received 140 applications, which tells me that there's a lot of demand for this need and this skill. And that's why I'm thrilled that the President has asked for more than tripling the investment in Striving Readers in this year's budget.

So you all are going to lead the way, pioneer these strategies. And the eyes of the nation are upon you as you do this very important work.

No Child Left Behind said to our country and to educators and to parents that we were going to hold ourselves accountable -- all of us -- for having every student proficient and on grade level by the 2013-14 school year, and that we were going to invest strategically around research-based strategies that we know work in reading. And the way we're going to do that is to expand partnerships and do the work like we're doing here in Newark.

No Child Left Behind is working all across our country. When we focus on the needs of every child, when we focus on these essential skills of reading and math, we are seeing great results. And I want to remind you that those great results are happening here in New Jersey. The number of fourth graders who know their math fundamentals has increased by 6,000 students since 2003.

As a country, our nine-year-olds, our young readers have made more progress in the last five years than in the previous 28 years of our nation's education report card. We have gotten very smart about how we can make sure every child is a reader, and every child is a proficient reader.

Mrs. Laura Bush addresses an audience at the Avon Avenue Elementary School, Thursday, March 16, 2006 in Newark, N.J., where Mrs. Bush announced a Striving Readers grant to Newark Public Schools. The grant will be used to support programs to improve students reading skills.  White House photo by Shealah Craighead So congratulations on your great results. Congratulations on receiving this grant. The eyes of the nation, as I said, are upon you as you work to train 200 teachers in research-based strategies, who will in turn help 1,700 young students here in this community to open the door to every subject, and the excitement of learning in middle and high school.

I am thrilled to share this podium, as I said, with a former teacher and school librarian who loves to visit schools -- I've visited lots of schools around the country with her -- who will talk about the importance of reading in all of our life.

Mrs. Bush, we are so lucky -- we in the education world -- to have her as our champion and advocate on behalf of children. And the Helping America's Youth initiative that she launched a little more than a year ago is doing just that -- helping America's youth. So without further ado, the person you've been waiting for besides the $14 million -- (laughter) -- our First Lady, Laura Bush. (Applause.)

MRS. BUSH: Thank you all very much. Thank you, Secretary Spellings. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

Thank you, Secretary Spellings, for your great work to promote education across our country for every single child. I also want to thank, Dr. Gayles, the principal, for hosting us here today at Avon Avenue. Thank you very much.

And to all the distinguished superintendents, the faculty, the Mayor, everyone who is here today who spend their lives thinking about children, trying to figure out ways to help children, making sure every child that you come in contact with has the chance to succeed, I want to thank you for joining us, and thank you for your very warm welcome.

I also want to tell the students behind me, thanks. Thank you for letting me visit one of your classrooms. And I'm really very happy to be here today, just to be along Secretary Spellings as this first grant, Striving Readers' grant is awarded to the Newark Public Schools.

Reading, as Margaret said, is the foundation of all learning. If you can read, you can read every subject. If you can't read, you're behind in every single subject. So it's so important for each of us as adults and for each student here to be able to make sure they learn to read so they can establish healthy and successful lives.

Mrs. Laura Bush announces a Striving Readers grant to Newark Public Schools, during her visit to the Avon Avenue Elementary School, Thursday, March 16, 2006 in Newark, N.J. The Striving Readers grant will be used to support programs to improve students reading skills and become proficient at grade level.  White House photo by Shealah Craighead To the educators here, your encouragement is vital to help young people so they can set good goals for themselves, and then develop the confidence and the skills to reach those goals. Last year, 2005, in his State of the Union address President Bush announced the Helping America's Youth initiative. And he asked me to lead it. The goal of the Helping America's Youth initiative is to try to take action -- all of us, all adults -- across the United States in the three most important parts of a child's life, their family, their school, and their community.

Today, all of us know that American young people face many more dangers than we did just a generation ago. Drugs and gangs, predators on the Internet, violence in real life and on television are just some of the negative influences that are present everywhere today.

And as children face greater dangers, they often have fewer people to turn to for help. More children are raised in single-parent families, most often without a dad. Millions of children have one or both parents in prison. Many boys and girls spend more time alone or with their peers than they do with a member of their family

Young people must have positive influences in their lives. And we want every child to be surrounded by caring adults who provide love, advice, and encouragement, and who can serve as good role models.

And I know -- and each of you do, too -- that when you ask young people who made the most difference in their lives, besides their family members, they'll say their teacher or their coach. So I want to thank each one of you for serving as that good role model, and for reaching out to children to make a difference in their lives.

Schools are at the very heart of Helping America's Youth, because every child must have a good education so they can have a bright future. Today, our schools are improving, just like Margaret said, thanks to accountability, and to higher standards, and thanks to the hard work of all of our teachers and principals across our country. But many students have reached middle school and high school without mastering vital skills like reading. And we can't ignore these students.

As we spend a lot of time and attention on those first three years -- first grade through third grade, making sure children have a great start in learning to read, and a great basis, we can't ignore the children who've already made it this far and can't read.

So the Striving Readers program provides schools with the resources they need to have comprehensive reading intervention programs so that students can improve their reading skills and become proficient at grade level. And the really great news about a lot of these new research-based reading programs is that students can come up to grade level pretty quickly, faster than a first or a second grader might move because they're older, they're developmentally ahead, obviously, of a first or second grader. They have a much larger spoken vocabulary because they've listened to television a lot longer than first and second graders have. But we know that with stronger reading skills, these students are more likely to graduate, less likely to drop out of school, and more likely to go on to be able to find good jobs.

Last fall, during the White House Conference on Helping America's Youth, Tommy Ledbetter, the principal at Buckhorn High School in New Market, Alabama, shared his story about the success of their Striving Readers program. Through leadership, through data-driven decision making, intensive intervention and monitored instruction, Buckhorn High School went from the 57th percentile in reading in 1999, to 100 percent of their senior class passing the reading portion of Alabama's grade-level graduation exam. (Applause.)

Tommy also told us the story of one of his students named Travis Friend. Travis, who is a senior now at Buckhorn, was identified as a struggling reader upon entering high school. He was reading at the grade equivalent of a third grader. He was placed in the reading intervention program and he began to excel. Not only were his grades improving, but by his junior year, he was serving as student ambassador and a student government representative. Travis passed the final portion of the graduation exam last spring. And he now plans to go to college to become a special education teacher. He says he wants to help other students succeed like he has.

Strong communities -- and this is what Newark, the city, itself can be -- support the work of schools by providing educational and safe after-school activities for students. And strong communities nurture healthy children by surrounding them with a network of loving people who keep them safe and can guide them toward success.

Forming what we call "community coalitions" is an important step in reaching children who need help. Community coalitions bring together everyone from teachers, to mentors, to pastors, to parents, to police officers, to substance abuse experts, to social service providers, and business leaders. Anyone who has the ability and the desire to have a positive impact on a child's life should be part of a community coalition.

At the White House Conference on Helping America's Youth, we introduced an online interactive community guide. And it allows communities to assess their unique local needs and to find programs and resources to meet them. The guide is available at the website -- g-o-v--that's gov.

I've visited many youth programs throughout the country during the last year before the conference, meeting people who are helping children develop a strong character, a love of education, and the self-respect and the self-control to stay away from violence, and gangs, and drugs.

Right here at Avon Avenue, you have great programs, such as Best Friends and Best Men, which provide character-building lessons for both girls and boys.

One of the first visits I made last year was to Think Detroit, a program that teaches character development and healthy behavior through sports. After my visit, a newspaper reporter asked one of the little boys that I met what he thought about my visit. And I was moved when I read that the little boy simply said, "I wish she could stay here." Children want us in their lives, and children need us in their lives. And as I've witnessed as I've traveled all across the country, and here today, each of us has the power to help children.

Thank you all very much, and congratulations on this great award. Good luck as you use these resources to help the young students of Newark. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

END 10:51 A.M. EST

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