Boston’s best and brightest community and business leaders teach middle schoolers that career success is viable, but literacy is the first step.

Dr. Paula Johnson, Executive Director of the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital

Dr. Paula Johnson, Executive Director of the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

For Boston’s students, summer is here and school is almost out.  However, we hope that students will remember that reading is still in. A recent study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Summer Learning found that, without summer educational programs, the average student falls two months behind in his or her reading skills.

Keeping kids motivated to keep learning can’t stop just because class time is over. It needs to be a year-round effort, and it needs to be a communal effort. At Boston Partners in Education, we specialize in bringing community members into K-12 classrooms around the city, to help close the achievement gap and ensure on-time graduation.

The Big Cheese Reads is a sponsorship initiative that connects students to their community by inviting accomplished business, civic and cultural leaders to participate in classroom read-alouds. These “Big Cheeses” visit Boston middle school classrooms to serve as role models, and make an impact in the lives of our community’s youth. During and after reading a story aloud to a class, they help students make the crucial connection between literacy, career and success.

Jib Wilkinson (left) with fellow "Big Cheeses" Dr. Selase Williams, Pamela Civins, Secretary Matt Malone and MaryLynn and Joe Antonellis.

Jib Wilkinson (left) with fellow “Big Cheeses” Dr. Selase Williams, Pamela Civins, Secretary Matt Malone, and MaryLynn and Joe Antonellis.

“Big Cheeses” share their personal stories with students about their paths to career success, and the struggle of overcoming educational challenges. Some “Big Cheeses,” like Jib Wilkinson of Deloitte Consulting, LLP, recall being held back a grade because he couldn’t read well enough to advance. Today, he is a Principal at one of the leading financial firms in the country.

Or Joe Laurin of Fidelity Investments, who admits he hated reading, and said he “faked his way through the reading assignments for years.” However, Mr. Laurin’s whole perspective on reading was changed upon reading J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye in eighth grade, which sparked his curiosity. “Don’t just do the minimum to get by,” Laurin said to a 7th grade classroom at the Middle School Academy in South Boston, “You have to be curious.”

"Big Cheese" Joe Laurin with student ambassador Khamani and his math teacher Mr. Griffin.

“Big Cheese” Joe Laurin with student ambassador Khamani, and his math teacher Mr. Griffin.

When middle school students hear stories like these from successful business people, they receive the message that hard work and perseverance are part of life-long learning.  As one sixth grade student said, “I learned that you have to work hard to be successful. I learned that I have to work hard on what I want to achieve.”


Students of the McCormack K-8 School in Dorchester show their appreciation to a Big Cheese Reader.

Ms. Rojas, a 6th grade teacher from the Ohrenberger School, said the Big Cheese Reads visit would help her students “see more clearly the connection between choices they make in school and the work life they will have after school.”

This school year, 108 Big Cheese Readers encouraged and inspired over 3,000 middle school students in classrooms across Boston. One hundred percent of “Big Cheeses” said they would be interested in doing it again next year.

We hope that visits from “Big Cheeses” will keep kids motivated to continue reading and learning, not just for the summer, but for the rest of their lives!