Erik Jones brought new meaning to the phrase “read the room” Friday morning at Estrella Vista STEM Academy for Engineering. The NASCAR Cup Series driver whose charitable foundation, the Erik Jones Foundation, champions childhood reading, turned pages with students before turning laps around nearby Phoenix Raceway.
Jones read Dragons Love Tacos by the author/illustrator team of Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri to each of the school’s third-grade classes. Every student walked away with a copy of the book, and the school’s library was gifted with 10 more books, all thanks to a collaboration between Jones’ eponymous foundation and Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education and media company.
Jones then participated in a question-and-answer session with fifth-grade students before departing for the racetrack, where the 25-year-old racer from Byron, Michigan, will drive the iconic No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro for Richard Petty Motorsports in the season-ending NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix.
“We’re still in the very early stages of building our foundation, but today was a proud moment because the Erik Jones Foundation is now an official Scholastic Literacy Partner,” said Jones, who launched his foundation back in August before his home race at Michigan International Speedway. “I’m passionate about reading. It’s a great escape, but it also makes you smarter. The more you read, the more you learn, and the best part about all of it is that once you have it, no one can ever take it away. It’s yours, and you can apply it to whatever you want to do in life.”
Jones’ appearance at the Estrella Vista STEM Academy for Engineering was done in collaboration with Valley of the Sun United Way, which supports community causes that ensure children and their families have a safe place to live with every opportunity to succeed in school, life and work.
“Our goal is to increase third-grade reading proficiency by 25 percent before 2016, and there’s no better way to do that than by showing students tangible reasons why reading is so important,” said Dr. Melissa Boydston, Vice President of Community Development and Engagement for Education, Valley of the Sun United Way. “Erik Jones is walking and talking proof of how reading helped make his dream of driving racecars for a living a reality. The kids got to see him and hear from him, and seeing is believing. Erik’s time at the school today really made an impact, and the work he is doing with his foundation is incredibly valuable. When we reach our goal, we can thank the Erik Jones Foundation for its help.”
Friday’s school visit was an extension of Jones’ #READwithErik series, which began last spring when COVID-19 forced NASCAR to take a 10-week break and schools transitioned to remote learning. Jones saw an opportunity to share his passion for reading, and the first #READwithErik event took place on April 21, 2020 when he sat down in front of a camera and read Dr. Seuss’ iconic Oh, The Places You’ll Go via his Facebook page. Since its debut, #READwithErik has featured 38 books with more than 200,000 views.
“COVID made life tough for everyone, but kids especially. They couldn’t go to school and see their friends, and normal things like getting together at the cafeteria table all of a sudden just went away. I wanted to do something to try and make that a little bit better, and that’s how our virtual reading circle came together,” said Jones.
“It was back at Michigan when we launched our foundation that I was able to do our first in-person reading. It was at a campground just outside the racetrack. Today was only our second in-person reading, but our first in a school. It was awesome. In-person is so much better than virtual. It was real and we got to interact with kids. It was a great way for me to kick off my race weekend and I’d like to think the kids enjoyed doing something a little bit different from their regular school day.”
Dr. Boydston agreed, citing the impact of COVID-19 on children’s reading skills.
“Results of the most recent state English language arts assessment confirm the implications of the pandemic on third grade reading proficiency,” Boydston said. “Less than half of Arizona’s third-grade readers passed the assessment, with our youngest students experiencing significant unfinished learning. That’s why opportunities like this, having Erik Jones ignite children’s passion for reading, is so very important. We know that reading books aloud to children stimulates their imagination. It expands their understanding of the world and helps develop their language and listening skills.”
Supporting the Erik Jones Foundation and initiatives like the one at Estrella Vista STEM Academy for Engineering is easy during the upcoming season of giving. When shopping online, choose smile.amazon.com. Simply designate the Erik Jones Foundation as your charity of choice and Amazon will donate a portion of the sale from your purchases to the Foundation.
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