Community Service Initiative out of University’s Library Puts Faculty and Staff Into Classrooms of Local Schools to Show Kids that Real Men Read

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Josh Powers reads to children in Paterson School 29.

Education and Curriculum Materials Librarian Neil Grimes reads to second-graders at Paterson School 9.

More than a dozen men from William Paterson University’s faculty and staff have been visiting area preschools and elementary schools this week to read aloud to students through “Real Men Read” – a community outreach initiative spearheaded by Neil Grimes, education and curriculum materials librarian at the University’s David and Lorraine Cheng Library, in collaboration with the College of Education.

Why the need for Real Men Read? According to Grimes, most young boys interact primarily with female teachers throughout their school day. “These young boys may better identify with the men who they see reading and it may encourage them to take a stronger interest in reading, too,” Grimes explains.

Indeed, 82 percent of all teachers are white women, according to David Fuentes, professor of elementary and early childhood education at WP. Fuentes does a great deal of research about the importance of men, and particularly men of color, in the teaching workforce.

He read to students at Paterson School 28 through Real Men Read. Joining him were two of his male students – high school students from Paterson’s JFK SET Academy who take education classes at the University through a dual-enrollment agreement – and one high school student who will start that program next year. 

For the little ones, and especially for the boys, seeing male teenagers from their hometown in teaching roles can be transformative, Fuentes says. Meanwhile, the high school students benefitted from hands-on classroom experience.

WP Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Josh Powers also took part in Real Men Read, visiting three classrooms at Paterson School 29. 

“The children were outstanding and a joy to engage,” Powers says. “The book I read, What Do You Do with a Problem?, enabled powerful conversation at key moments,” he continues. “This reminds me why schools and their support network are so important.”

Grimes read to three classrooms of students at Paterson School 9 and in three Head Start preschools – those in Pompton Lakes, Ringwood, and Wayne.

“The students were engaged, interested, and inquisitive throughout my reading,” Grimes says. “The teachers really appreciated having a male teacher in their classes and loved the whole idea of the Real Men Read initiative. It is my hope to grow this worthwhile program in future years.”

The schools in which WP community members read to students are part of the College of Education’s Professional Development Schools (PDS) Network – a group of about 50 area schools to which WP provides a professor-in-residence to share innovative teaching methods and resources.

The out-of-the-box teaching approach of Real Men Read particularly resonated with one of the University’s PDS partners, School 28 in Paterson. Students there created a logo for Real Men Read, which the principal had printed on t-shirts. The day after Fuentes and his students visited the school, every male employee from teachers to the custodial staff wore those t-shirts and visited classrooms to read aloud to students.

“This shows tremendous buy-in on the school’s part and it means the idea for Real Men Read was really good; it shows that the program was truly needed,” Fuentes says.

In 2014, William Paterson University was one of 10 universities in the U.S. to be awarded a Networked Improvement Community fellowship through the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) to take up the cause of diversifying the teacher workforce and report nationally on what has been enacted and discovered. The New Jersey Department of Education has recently adopted a “Diversifying the Teacher Workforce” initiative, thanks in part to the visibility William Paterson University has brought to this issue.

Grimes, who only started at the University five months ago, says he was blown away by the support and encouragement he received for Real Men Read campus-wide.

“This really speaks to the character of the University, that so many people were willing to do this outreach, which I did not advertise widely, as this was my first time trying such a program and I wanted to start small,” Grimes says. “We really can make a difference in the community through a program like this and others.”

See more photos from Real Men Read on our Facebook page.

 See coverage of Real Men Read via The Star-Ledger and