Milestone marked: Milwaukee school gives away 10,000th "birthday book"

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- We all know it can be tough to get kids excited about reading. But at Milwaukee's Longfellow Public School, kids have a different perspective.

The principal started a Birthday Book program 12 years ago. Each kid, each year, receives a free book on their birthday.

Friday October 31st, the school reached a major milestone, giving away their 10,000th book.

Irene Segovia is the lucky student. She's turning seven years old.

The first grader chose "Run down the race car."

She says she feels extra special, having the 10,000th book.

"Today is my birthday and I am the only one!" said Segovia.

Principal Wendell Smith says he started the program as a way to tackle literacy in his student's homes. Many of them live in poverty.

"They go home to parents that are struggling to make ends meet, to put food on the table, every night, and literacy takes a back seat," said Smith.

Since the Birthday Book program started at Longfellow, it has shown some proven results. Consider this statistic: in the last four years, reading proficiency has grown by five percentage points. But the principal says there is still work to be done.

He says many students still struggle with vocabulary. Ninety-five percent of third graders at Longfellow fall in the average, below average or low categories. And teachers are focused on changing that.

"To make sure that our kids move on fully literate, and in many cases, fully literate in both English and Spanish," he said.

Books for the program are paid for out of the school budget, and Smith says it is a small price to pay for kids like Irene to learn to read.
The books that are chosen for the program are often based on teacher recommendations and the school makes sure the one the child picks, is age appropriate.