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Pens Foundation and U. S. Steel Partner to Form Reading Champions Program

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

When people think of the Pittsburgh Penguins, they think of champions.

When people think of U. S. Steel, they think of our community.

And bringing two of the best in their respective industries together to help the Pittsburgh region is truly something special.

That's what they are doing with the Reading Champions program, created by U. S. Steel in partnership with the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, to encourage young students to spend more time reading.

"We are going to change lives with this partnership," said Jim Britt, executive director of the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation. "It's so exciting. With the support of U. S. Steel, we're actually going to improve the literacy rates in Mon Valley. That's impactful. That matters. And for the Penguins, that's just as important as trying to win a Stanley Cup."

"I think if we do things right here with this partnership, we can help kids in the community learn to read and really, at the end of the day, help them be the best they can be, and have a great education and hopefully great futures," said Rich Fruehauf, senior vice president and Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer for U. S. Steel.

When discussions between the companies first began, it was incredibly important for U. S. Steel to make an impact on Mon Valley, where over 3,000 employees work at their steelmaking operations there.

In doing their research, they learned that as of 2019, the majority of elementary schools in the Mon Valley have one-third or more of their students reading at or below a basic literacy level. Getting behind at such a young age can lead to more advanced academic struggles as these students continue in school. Without the necessary literacy skills, students are more likely to drop out of high school, which only reduces their chances to have productive careers as adults.

So they turned their focus to reading, which honors the legacy of Andrew Carnegie - one of the founders of U. S. Steel and a lover of books who has his name on libraries not just across Pittsburgh, but around the world.

"As everybody who works with U. S. Steel knows, when Andrew Carnegie became among the wealthiest people in the world, what did he do? He began a decades long program to fund the building of libraries around the world, including the very first one to open in the United States here in Braddock," Fruehauf said. "So there's always been a connection between reading and this company, and I think we're really excited to partner with the Penguins."

With that, U. S. Steel and the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation created the Reading Champions program to engage students and incentivize them to increase their literary proficiency. Partnering with the five-time Stanley Cup Champions shows them that they have to work hard if they want to achieve success like the Penguins achieve on the ice.

"We've all seen Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, and the old 29-er, Phil Bourque, hoisting the Stanley Cup. Those are iconic moments," said Luke Mohamed, Penguins Director of Partnership Sales.

"So how do we take that passion and apply it to kids in reading? Kids who may not have the resources at home to learn or who may be struggling with other things in life? Our vision is let's make kids feel like the old 29er felt in the early '90s - make them feel like champions when they read."

Many reading programs are more about the number of books read rather than the time spent reading them. This program measures the number of minutes spent reading and prioritizes thinking through what is being read rather than speed reading for completion.

It incentivizes students with Penguins and U. S. Steel prizes to work their way up through the reading levels, from Rookie to 1st Line to MVP, and encourages them to work as a team to get larger prizes as a class and a school.

The Stanley Cup is the only professional sports trophy where the name of every member of the winning team is inscribed. We're going to celebrate these classrooms just like Stanley Cup Champions. The winning teacher and student names will be engraved on the Steel Cup, a one-of-a-kind trophy that will be forged locally here by U. S. Steel.

U. S. Steel is also making the program as accessible as possible by having diverse genres of books for students to read; measuring based on minutes read rather than pages or books; providing classrooms with books categorized by reading levels; creating a sight words program to help develop reading skills; and working with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU3) to provide assistive technology to help students with unique needs read or access their text.

"Just a lot of great ideas generated on how to really help the communities around where we work, and spend a lot of our time," said Heidi Chappell, Director of Strategic Project Management for U. S. Steel. "We're trying to really encourage everybody to be inclusive and have participation."

"Reading Champions present in the classroom will make a big difference in students' lives," said Penguins Foundation program lead Darya Snoznik. "Each participating classroom is equipped with everything they'll need for their reading journey, from helpful resources to school supplies to a new classroom library of 25 books. The more they read, the more they'll win Penguins and U. S. Steel prizes for their hard work, and ultimately, grow their love for reading. We're excited to team up and show these students what being a champion is all about."

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