The People’s Station, V-103 radio personality and show producer Ferrari Simmons is heading to a classroom near you. Simmons is gearing up to embark on his second Reading with Rari tour across Georgia beginning September 2016. Serving as a proud advocate for literacy, Simmons seeks to make a positive impact in the community by empowering youth through education. Last year, his program visited 15 public schools across Georgia reaching more than 2,000 students and plans to double those numbers in the upcoming months. Simmons spoke with rolling out recently to discuss his forthcoming children’s book, the importance of parents reading to their children, and the appropriate content for young people to be exposed to when selecting books.
What made you want to give back to the community through a youth literacy platform?
I have two kids. One of them is in pre-school and one is in the third grade. I read to them every night so I was already doing this anyway. And before them, I had nephews, of course, at that age that I read to so I could help my sister out at night. My kids really, really enjoy when we read at night. My daughter is in the third grade so she is learning from reading now. When you are younger from kindergarten, [to] first grade and second grade, you’re learning to read. Then third grade and up you’re reading to learn. It’s just a fun process that I actually enjoy being a part of.
What is your goal for the “Reading with Rari” tour?
We are going to start September of 2016. We’re going to do two days a weeks and two schools per day. From when we started it in February of this year more schools keep calling so we may stretch it until October but I have to talk to my team and see what’s the best option. We are going to definitely do September and I also have a program that’s coming up where we are going to do a lunch with Rari where I am going to be bringing police officers with me. We’ve done 15 schools and approximately reached 3,000 kids this past February so we are probably going to double that amount. Now the schools want me to read to the entire grade instead of just two classes just because of the success. It is definitely going to be a very big deal and I am proud of it.
Were you an avid reader as a child or had someone read books to you when you were in school or at home?
No, I didn’t. My parents were just really busy working. I don’t want to say that they were bad parents. They are great parents but I just remember no one reading to me when I was younger. They did here and there but they weren’t as active as I am. I can see that when I started with my daughter. When I read I am very animated and it gets them really excited. It’s something that they look forward to every Wednesday and Thursday which is usually when I do it with them so they get really amped up. We read and we have fun.
We are in a digital age where the internet can be a huge distraction for young people. Do you ever find it difficult to engage these students when reading in the classroom?
When I’m there and I’m reading with them with the program that I have I am extremely animated. I grab their attention as soon as I start talking. I think that is what is really making it such a success. I talk in an animated way so that when I am reading to them they are like this is super cool. I will read the same book that someone else will read but I will come across different and they will want me to read the exact same thing one more time.
What has recent research told you about early literacy development that you didn’t know before?
Basically, reading is very important. As an adult you kind of take it for granted how important reading really is and especially with adults who don’t have kids. They tend to forget how important it is to read and how much you read when your driving or talking to somebody. You just do it subconsciously. Your reading so much that your not paying attention to how important it is. I’m realizing when I’m with these kids that it all starts right here. Kindergarten through 4th grade is so important because you’re really learning how to read and by the time you’re in the 5th grade you have to have it down pact.
Nowadays, kids are being exposed to the real world at much younger ages. They are putting homosexuality, atheism, violence and other controversial topics in children’s books. How can parents tell if a book is appropriate for a particular age group?
I think elementary school is a very innocent stage. It’s not really coming up in that part of the curriculum. I know it’s coming up in middle school now but my program focuses on pre-K through third grade. What I do is get there early and speak with the principle and then we pick out books together and sometimes I’ll have a guest with me. I’ll read the first two books and then I will have the guest read the other. I might bring another radio personality like myself.
Parents need to read to their kids at home as much as teachers do in the classroom. Do you agree with this statement?
Of course, and more. It starts at home actually, even they are in school. I think with today both parents are working now full time and overtime so I get it. Parents are tired. It’s still hands-on but both parents are tired from getting up early and going to work. I know it’s hard to make that time to read to your kids. That is what the program also is. They get so excited at school that they want their parents to read to them when they get home. If your kid comes up to you at home and says, “Hey mom! Read this book to me,” you’re going to read it even if you weren’t even thinking about it. Now, I’m already putting that in their minds that they want to read and that is the goal of what I am trying to accomplish.
What advice do you have for a parent whose child is not interested in books?
I think you grab their attention by seeing what they are interested in and getting a book based upon that. For example, my son likes LEGOS, so I will get him a LEGOS book and will read that. You just have to find the right one. They have so many books that will suit your child’s interest. You just have to find out what their interests are. My daughter picks out the books that she likes. They pay attention because it’s something that they like. My advice would be when you go find a book find something that is of the same interest with what they like.
Can you share any details on the children’s book you’re writing?
It is still in the beginning stages so not too much info on it yet. It is going to be a kindergarten through the third-grade book. It is going to be written by me and I am probably going to have somebody help me write it. That is definitely in the works.