For my work as a Congressman and now as Transportation Secretary, I have to spend a lot of time in Washington. But nothing makes me happier than to be back home in Peoria, Illinois.
Monday was a special treat because I got to meet the kindergarten and first grade classes at the Glen Oak Community Learning Center, a new school that's just a few blocks away from where I grew up.
Miss Kenney, one of the first grade teachers there, invited me to look at their state-of-the-art facility and read a few stories to the kids. And, as a former teacher who is always excited to get back into the classroom, I was happy to accept.
What a reception I got! There were over 200 students in attendance, and the question they all wanted to ask was "Do you really work for President Obama?" After assuring them that I did, we got down to business and read two books: "Old Bear," by Kevin Henkes, and "The Wonderful Book," by Leonid Gore.
According to Miss Kenney, who has taught in the school district for over 20 years, reading is a fundamental part of everything they do at Glen Oak--especially for their youngest students.
"It's such a wonderful age. In kindergarten, they're just learning to make their sounds and put words together. And by first grade, they're already starting to master the basics," she said. "It's like seeing a light bulb go off in their heads. As they start reading and understanding, they just gain confidence and self-esteem right before your eyes."
"We try to involve parents in everything we do in the classrooms," Miss Kenney told me.
As easy as it can be to forget, reading isn't a skill we're born with--it's one we have to learn. And parents play a key role in making sure kids get a good start. Children between 2 and 3 years old who were read to several times a day did substantially better in kindergarten than kids whose parents read to them a few times a week or less.
Most importantly, reading together is just plain fun. Books can spark the imagination. They can take you around the world without ever leaving the house. And as a grandfather of nine, some of my best times with the grandkids involve exploring new worlds through the pages of a book.
You can bet I won't soon forget my trip to visit the students at the Glen Oak Community Learning Center--and not just because they gave me a framed picture and a key to the school to bring back to my office. Many thanks to Miss Kenney and Principal Coleman for the invitation. And to the kids at Glen Oak: keep up the good work, and keep reading!