Eagles player promises ice-cream party if West Oak Lane students read regularly

Holding a brand-new book and poster freshly autographed by Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin, young Kazir got to talking Wednesday morning about why he loves reading.

Among two dozen students in the Prince Hall Elementary School library for the “READ! By 4th Campaign” literacy event, the youngster said that good books often offer quality life lessons.

“Dictionaries. Other large books,” he mentioned of things he’s read. “One book taught me how to drive a car.”

That’s when Kazir’s second-grade friend Jeremiah had heard enough.

“You don’t know how to drive a car,” he maintained, accurately, one would hope.

A push for early literacy

What Kazir does know how to do is read.

And that was the point that brought Boykin, the Eagles Youth Partnership (EYP), School District Deputy Chief of Early Childhood Education Diane Castelbuono, Urban Affairs Coalition President Sharmain Matlock-Turner and others to the North Gratz Street school.

Boykin will serve as “a leading voice” in the campaign aiming to “boost the number of children reading on grade level by the start of fourth grade,” something that more than half couldn’t do, according to 2012 statistics cited at the launch.

Boykin, a 2012 fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Georgia, focused his message on a couple points.

Let’s make a deal

First up was a quid pro quo of sorts.

If the kids keep up their end of the bargain by reading daily, he’ll return to the West Oak Lane to visit and, quite possibly, host an ice-cream party. (He joked that he would tackle those who don’t abide by the reading rules).

The second point centered on the hashtagged phrase #DoThe22 which was less about Boykin’s uniform number and more about setting aside time each day to focus on literacy and human interactions.

“Me and my fiancée, when we see each other, we shut down all social media and talk about what happened to us during the day,” Boykin said.

That was Boykin’s segue into urging the youths to set aside iPads, Instagram, televisions, phones and other distractions to read something for at least 22 minutes a day.

“Reading will take you so far. It applies to every part of your life,” said Boykin who will, according to a press release about the effort, “use his appearances on sports radio, and in the media, to give tips on how parents can help their children become great readers.”

Books, posters and cheers

Sarah Martinez-Helfman is executive director of the EYP which “will donate 12,000 posters promoting literacy and featuring Boykin to be posted in every kindergarten through third-grade public-school classroom, early-childhood programs, recreation centers and libraries across the city.”

Those were the posters that Boykin autographed for students on a table from which the youths could grab free books including “The Matchbox Diary,” “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,” “Pirates Don’t Change Diapers” and “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

“This man’s job on the football field is to stop people from reaching their goals,” said Martinez-Helfman of Boykin, “but off the field, his job is something different.”

One they all had new books and signed posters, the Prince Hall students got in line for their return walk to their classrooms, but not before chanting “Do The 22” and getting a high five from Boykin as they passed.

That energy sat well with those involved in the campaign.

“Twelfth grade is the touchdown. We have to get on the field in the fourth grade,” said Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, which worked with the Urban Affairs Coalition and 50 organizations to launch the multi-year campaign. “Our goal is for all kids in Philadelphia to be great readers.”

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