In the 2010 census for Reading, PA the age bracket for people ages five to 17 years had the second highest percentage of the population for the city. This age bracket is the target age group for the Reading Fightin Phils and the education programs run by the organization.
The Crazy about Reading program is the larger and more involved of the two. Officially known as The Crazy Hot Dog Vendor’s Crazy About Reading program, the goal is to encourage students to read more and help them broaden their vocabulary. A group of the local elementary schools participate in the program in different ways.
“Roula Elliker at Muhlenberg Elementary Center has a great model, “ said Matthew Jackson, the performer behind the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor since 2004. “Each grade is challenged differently, but no matter what grade the students are in they learn a particular WOW (Word of the Week) word to broaden their vocabulary.”
The Words of the Week are shared throughout the school and are also represented in the community via the local radio station, WEEU, and on a local digital billboard. A sample of Words of the Week can be found in the image below.
As a part of the program at Muhlenberg Elementary Center, the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor, Screwball, and other local celebrities join the students at an end of the year assembly during which they play games focused on the Words of the Week and prizes are given out for student essays.
“The best part of the program is literally seeing how the kids’ hard work pays off through the expanded vocabulary and comprehension,” Jackson said.
In a letter to parents regarding the Adequate Yearly Progress and school improvement plan for Muhlenberg Elementary, the administration discussed strategies to improve instruction for the students including strengthening the reading program. Programs such as the Crazy About Reading Program are ways to make this possible.
Each student who participates in the program is also given a free ticket to a Redner’s Kids Club game and are treated to a special read-aloud featuring the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor and one of the Fightins players.
“It’s great because it allows kids to see professional athletes, people they see as role models and look up to, in a different environment and encouraging them to be successful in education and not just athletics,” said Ariane Cain, a 10-year employee of the Reading Fightin Phils. “It gives them different voices encouraging them to read and follow through with their education, not just their parents and teachers.”
Jackson has seen proof that the program has an effect on the kids in the years that he has been with the organization.
“I’ve been part of the program for years and have seen kids come up to me throughout the summer thanking The Crazy Hot Dog Vendor for coming to their school,” he said. “If they’re that excited to learn and read than I’m sure they are retaining the things they’re learning.”