09/28/2010 02:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hand a Child a Book. Watch a Miracle.

As a baby in 1967, I was born into the foster care system.

70% of my African-American male peers in foster care ended up in jail.

As the result of being adopted by my mom and dad, George and Veronica Phalen, and their passion for reading and education, I graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School. Having witnessed the transformative power of reading and family involvement, I became the CEO of Reach Out and Read.

Founded in 1989 by pediatric heroes Dr. Robert Needleman and Dr. Barry Zuckerman, Reach Out and Read consists of 30,000 doctors and nurses in 4,535 hospitals who "prescribe reading" to 3.9 million low-income mothers and their infants. Children served by Reach Out and Read score significantly higher on vocabulary tests and show a six month learning gain during preschool.


(Pictured above, Dr. Perri Klass NYU Professor of Pediatrics)

For the past 20 years, I have worked to expand the life opportunities of children through learning and academic engagement.

While there is a tremendous amount of scrutiny on teachers and schools, a significant factor in a child's success is a parent, uncle, aunt, brother, or grandparent's involvement in a student's learning outside of classroom hours.

Unfortunately, most families are wasting this opportunity. For example, less than half of American children are read to daily.

According to a Carnegie Foundation study, 35% of children enter kindergarten without basic language skills like recognizing letters of the alphabet.

Using out of school time to strengthen a child's learning potential is not just critical before kindergarten, but through graduation.

Each year, students experience a three month summer learning loss. Parents, family, and friends should keep children engaged in learning and growing during academic breaks. Nationally, there are several successful programs. In addition to Reach Out and Read, I am privileged to work with the phenomenal school administrators and educators who make up Summer Advantage USA. In Indiana, due to their efforts, children enrolled in the program experienced a dramatic increase in test scores.

While there may be many challenges within our communities, there are also many victories.

In upcoming posts I hope to share with you:

1. Interesting facts regarding the educational crisis,

2. Compelling stories of parents, teachers, students, and others who are having a phenomenal impact on learning; and

3. How you can be a 'Superman' or 'Wonder Woman' in your community.


(Pictured above, Earl Martin Phalen working with students)

We spend a half trillion dollars each year on education. Teachers and schools leaders have to be held accountable for the education of our children. But so do we.

As I know from personal experience, the foundation for a strong education begins early and in the home.