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Last May, the staff at Cooks Corners Elementary School sat down together and brainstormed. We were thinking about homework. More specifically, we were thinking about what type of homework would be most impactful to our students’ academic growth.

It didn’t take long to come up with an answer – reading. We knew that if we could count on each of our students to read for just 20 minutes at home each night, great things could happen. We further knew that if those same students also saw reading modeled for them each night, even greater things could happen. From that brainstorm, “20 Together,” was born.

“20 Together” challenges students to sit together with the adults in their family to spend 20 minutes reading each day. Parents are encouraged to model the importance of reading by setting aside time to read aloud to their child, listening to their child read, or reading their own book next to their child. Families at Cooks Corners are reading for “20 Together,” and it is powerful.

The immediate reward for such efforts is the privilege of checking out an extra book from the Cooks Corners media center, but the long term rewards are far-reaching. Reading outside of school correlates with improved comprehension, increased vocabulary, stronger background knowledge, and better academic achievement. A student who reads for 20 minutes daily may encounter 1.8 million more words per year, and will have read the equivalent of 60 additional school days by the time he or she reaches sixth grade.

All homework assignments given by a teacher have meaningful purpose, but perhaps none so much as 20 minutes of reading. Reading is more than just another assignment. While it isn’t something turned in for a grade, it is a skill that serves us in every aspect of life. We read for work, for enjoyment, and to better understand the world around us.

In our daily routines, there are certain non-negotiable practices – eating, sleeping, etc. Imagine the impact if all of us were to make 20 minutes of reading a non-negotiable. Imagine the increased learning that would take place. At Cooks Corners, we are hungry for that learning, so we are reading for “20 Together.”

Erin Utesch is Cooks Corners Elementary School principal for Valparaiso Community Schools. This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

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Community Coordinator

Annette is Community Coordinator for The Times. She has been with the paper for two decades. A resident of Hobart, she graduated from Purdue University with degrees in English and German.