Reading is not dead: Thousands celebrate Reading Opens the World in Sachem, N.Y.

With a two-hour line, the parking lot overflowing, and traffic at a dead stop, you’d think Sachem North High School on Long Island had converted into Disneyland. But it was something even better.

The estimated 5,500 people had waited in line because there were 25,000 free books stacked up in Sachem North’s gymnasium as part of AFT’s Reading Opens the World program, which has distributed more than 1.5 million books and hosted more than 250 events across the country since its launch in December 2021.

Photo of children reading together at a ROTW event in Sachem, NY

The Sachem event also featured food trucks, ice cream vendors and carnival games, but the books were the main attraction.

“A little boy and his sister sat down right in the middle of all the games and the ice cream and started reading their new book,” says Jon Weston, an English teacher at Sachem North and a member of Sachem Central Teachers’ Association. “That’s what the kids were excited about—the books.”

The May 12 event was supported by SCTA, the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, Sachem Central School District and the PTA. State Sen. Dean Murray, Suffolk County legislator Anthony Picarello, and Assemblyman Doug Smith—who is Weston’s former student—also attended the event.

“Few days in my government service or education career can match today,” Smith told Messenger Papers Inc. “Thank you to our fantastic teachers and staff at Sachem for everything you do for our kids!”

It wasn’t just the kids and families lined up for books who were excited—Weston’s students and National Honor Society members got in on the act, too.

“Students stayed after school to unpack and sort and label the books, and they came to the event to do the facepainting and staff the carnival games,” he said. “I had one student who came and asked if she could stay and help give away the books, and she was so interested in how we got them and loved that families and kids could just take them home.”

In fact, when Weston offered extra points on a test or books as a reward for a classroom trivia game, his students chose the books.

The takeaway? “Reading is not dead,” Weston says. “And that’s a good thing.”

[Melanie Boyer]