Jason Anderson, Academic Coach and Second Chance Reading Instructor at Pella Middle School, has written a lot of letters over the last four years.
He’s gotten a lot of responses too - usually by way of a package or large box.
Every year, for the past four, Anderson has written a personalized letter to every Division I football program, Major League Baseball, National Basketball League, National Football League and National Hockey League team in the country asking for reading ‘prizes’ for his students.
“I also write every college in the midwest with over 1,000 students enrolled,” Anderson said. “The Division One football programs are the best. They send posters, t-shirts, all kinds of stuff.”
Anderson said the words of encouragement that come along with the prizes is great as well.
“The kids see that I am working for them, writing these letters, and they work hard for me in return,” Anderson said. “I write letters for about an hour after school most days. I have even written letters to NASCAR drivers and Triple-A baseball teams. The best way to catch Major League teams is on spring break, so I have those letter ready to send here at the end of February.”
Anderson says he has seen test scores improve in reading since his idea to add a little incentive for the students to work hard started.
“I hope we see two-years of (reading) growth by the end of the year,” he said. “The students get to pick prizes by the number of pages they have read.”
Anderson estimates his 7th grade class has read close to 50,000 pages to date.
“For my male students, there is a good chance I am their first male reading teacher,” Anderson said. “It’s been awesome to see the kids work hard. The area professional and college teams have been great to work with. They are always sending me something. Some time I don’t even ask for it and I will get a package from a team.”
Anderson estimates he writes close to 500 letter and emails a year asking for prizes.
“I’ve written professional soccer teams too,” he said. “Prizes keep trickling in every day. It’s like Christmas for me. The kids really get excited for the NFL stuff and I love opening my mail to see what has been sent. The girls in my class asked me to expand the prizes for them - that’s where I got the idea to get t-shirts from the admissions offices from the colleges.”
Seeing the students working hard in classroom makes all his work worth the effort Anderson admits.
“Deep down they want to work hard for a goal,” Anderson said. “Which is cool. The teams know it’s for the kids and they are always willing to help. We have even received tickets to baseball games in Kanas City and St. Louis for example, which makes for families to spend time together when they might not be able to do so otherwise.”
When Anderson was a kid, he used to write professional athletes and ask them to autograph a card he would send along in the envelope.
“That’s where the idea started,” he said. “I even show my students how I used to do it. The bottom line is, I just want to help the kids and this seems like an easy way to do it.