THE BLOG
02/26/2016 01:55 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2017

How I Got Adopted By an Author, Part 2

When I left you last week, I was leaving Las Vegas following an event I attended to watch a friend receive an award. As my plane taxied down the runway my phone rang. To my surprise, it was Steve Alten, the best-selling author and keynote speaker I had spent some time with. As the stewardess (sorry, flight attendant) gave me the evil eye and instructed me to power off my phone, Steve hurriedly asked me to text him my address as he needed to send something important.

What could it be? It was a packet of information from the Adopt-an-Author program that he and I had discussed in Vegas.

Adopt-an-Author is a non-profit reading program Alten launched back in 1999 after he became inundated with email from teens who loved his first novel, MEG, about a 70-foot, 50-ton prehistoric Great White shark. To his surprise, teachers began informing him that they were using MEG as part of their curriculum. With a background in education (Alten holds a bachelors, masters and doctorate degree in education and is certified to teach) the author realized something organic was happening, so he created Adopt-an-Author as a way to support the teachers. The program offers curriculum materials, posters, interactive websites, and direct communication between the authors and students via classroom speaker phone calls, email, skype, and personal visits. The program is FREE, and funded by sponsors, other authors and Steve Alten himself.

Through our conversations about reading and writing, Steve and I had discussed how important reading is in order to pass the state exams, graduate high school, enter college, or just to get a decent job. Millions of adults are unable to read or write, and, therefore, struggle to earn a living for themselves and their families. According to the international nonprofit ProLiteracy, there are 36 million adults living in the U.S. who can't read better than the average third-grader.

Reading is usually well-received by students in grammar school, but once puberty hits our middle and high school teachers find themselves competing with raging hormones, cell phones, video games, and other distractions.

"Every child learns to read at their own pace. Some children are reluctant to read because of lack of interest, frustration with learning to read, or even a negative experience. With time, consistent practice, and support, they can learn to love reading." -The Ooka Island Reading Team

Alten also believes that part of the problem is the choice of books being used in schools. The author was surprised to learn that many English teachers are using the same novels that he was forced to read forty years ago when he was a teen.

Why were teens reading MEG - an adult book filled with real science but a far more challenging vocabulary? Because reading about a giant shark eating people is fun! And that's the secret to getting a reluctant reader - teen or adult - to read. Make it fun. The Adopt-an-Author program supplies teachers with curriculum materials so that adding a new book during the school year is easier. The direct contact and interaction with students adds a whole new dimension to the experience.

I asked Steve how many teachers were registered for the program and was shocked when he said over 10,000. Do the math - that's a lot of students! Still, the challenge is huge.

"Nationally, one in four children grows up illiterate."

Curious to learn more about the impact of the program, I contacted one of the registered educators. Dr. Anthony Lockhart was first introduced to the program when he was at Bear Lakes Middle School in West Palm Beach, Florida. He brought it with him to Atlantic High School and now to Lake Shore Middle School in Belle Glade. Despite the differences in household income levels in these three schools, the principal told me the Adopt-an-Author program excited even the most reluctant teens to read; it grabbed their attention and they began to enjoy reading.

"When we can redirect a student's focus and engage them in learning it also decreases the likelihood of disciplinary problems and increases the potential of adulthood success." -Dr. Anthony Lockhart

Dr. Lockhart added that Alten leads by example, visiting as many schools as he can. Many people just talk about helping students improve their reading comprehension levels. It is the action that makes a difference.

If you are an author or educator, I am inviting you to lead by example too! Programs such as Adopt-an-Author can make a big difference in the future of our society. If you are a secondary school teacher you can learn more and register for free for on the Adopt-an-Author website. You can also help support teachers in the Adopt-An-Author program by considering sponsoring a classroom or school-- or simply by just spreading the word.

March is National Reader's Awareness Month. This is the year that I got adopted by an author. It's not too late for you to get adopted too!