Developments in Academic Year 2021-22

Our Plan and Priorities in 2021-22

It is not clear how the struggle to contain Covid 19 will play out during the 2021-22 school year. Schools are trying to move forward cautiously while maintaining a safe learning environment. We anticipate continued restrictions and possibly some degree of remote learning until the pandemic abates. And even though schools may be back in session with students and staff wearing masks, schools systems may limit “visitors” into the building – a restriction that could include our high school mentors. Our priority is the health and safety of our students and staff members.

We will take our cue from schools, and policies about visitors may be different from county to county. If our elementary schools and high schools are permitted to have our mentors work with our young readers, we will show up and abide by whatever precautions that need to be taken.

We will continue with the book donation arm of our program. We have been able to work with the Covid restrictions for the past two years to safely deliver a variety of books to our students as a way of giving them more opportunities to read, develop their skills, and be inspired.

We will be creating a Classroom Library Outreach Program, an additional avenue for us to improve the literacy of young students. ( See Other News Items below.)

Current Status of Mentoring Program

Northern Virginia and Maryland Schools (Dec. 1, 2021)

In Northern Virginia and Maryland, the RAL school partnerships sessions scheduled for the fall were not held because of the uncertainty of face-to-face mentoring in the current Covid environment.

There are currently no school system-wide restrictions for visitors; however, each school is making its own determination as to what will work best for its students, staff, and community. At this point in early December, about half of our in-person partnerships for our winter program are underway. Many partnerships have declined to participate because of Covid health and safety concerns as well as staffing challenges related to increased teacher workloads.

FCPS School Age Child Care centers are not allowing outside visitors, and Fairfax County Community Centers have restrictions on the number of people in their buildings. All of these have reduced the numbers by about half of our usual winter partnerships.

Some schools are hesitant to have our student-athletes and elementary students meet one-on-one, yet they are eager to continue the gains and growth experienced in the past through the RAL partnerships. When possible, we have adapted a modified format in some schools. For example, South Lakes HS Varsity Girls Basketball players will be reading to small groups of kindergarteners at Terraset ES to allow for proper spacing, and all of the kindergarten students at Terraset take part in this modified mentorship program.

We will revisit our fall and winter partnerships for possible programs to be held in the spring depending on conditions of the pandemic.

Fairfax County Public Schools (September 2021)

Readers Are Leaders is planning to follow Fairfax County’s Covid protocol as we proceed with our mentoring program for the winter and spring sports seasons in Fairfax County.

Guidelines for Mentors in Schools

Mentors supporting students are considered essential visitors in schools. All mentors visiting schools must comply with school visitor polices. This includes wearing a mask while indoors and completing a daily health screening prior to entering the building when required. Schools should emphasize the importance of staying home when sick. Anyone demonstrating symptoms of infectious illness, such as flu or COVID-19, should stay home and seek testing and care.

Beginning November 8, FCPS will require proof of full COVID-19 vaccination for any student participating in Virginia High School League (VHSL) winter and spring sports for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year.

Proof of full COVID-19 vaccination will also be required for participation in any other activity that requires a physical. This includes dance team and step team, as well as out-of-season practices and workouts.

New Hanover County Public Schools (September 2021)

Readers Are Leaders will be working with three partnerships in Wilmington, NC.

  • John T. Hoggard HS and Sunset Park ES
  • New Hanover HS and Annie H. Snipes Academy of Arts & Design
  • Brigade Boys and Girls Club
    • This last partnership has been recently approved. We will soon begin training their staff about the Readers Are Leaders goals and process.
    • Select high school students who belong to the Brigade Boys and Girls Club will be trained to begin mentoring in November the young elementary school readers who attend the Club.

Other News Items

Classroom Library Outreach Program

In dealing with the restrictions of Covid, we have explored other avenues for accomplishing our goals. One of our main goals is to get books into the hands of struggling readers – books that excite their interests, books that they can navigate at their current reading level. For nineteen years, we have experienced the positive impact of donating books to the young readers who have been a part of our mentoring program.

In 2021, Wendell decided to create a Classroom Library Outreach Program, an additional avenue for us to improve the literacy of young students. We know that  access to stimulating books can help struggling readers become skilled and passionate readers. We began a search for schools and teachers that work hard to fulfill the promise of their young readers yet have limited reading resources. In January 2022, we selected Aurora Collegiate Academy, a charter school serving children across Memphis, Tennessee ( as the first recipient of our program. We were impressed with the school’s overall approach, expectations, and core mission: "We unequivocally believe that every child, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or incoming academic level is capable of achieving academic success. And that it is every child’s fundamental right to be provided with a tuition-free, academically rigorous public education."

Aurora Collegiate Academy will select a fourth or fifth grade classroom to receive a library of 250 new books provided by Readers Are Leaders.

News article from New Hanover County Schools, NC (posted Dec. 1, 2021)

This article focuses on the RAL mentoring partnership between New Hanover High School and Annie H. Snipes Academy of Arts & Design. It was written by Christina Beam of the Communications and Outreach Division of New Hanover County Schools.

Golf Tournaments

The 13th Annual Readers Are Leaders Golf Classic was held on September 24, 2021 at Reston National Golf Course in Virginia. The 2nd Annual Readers Are Leaders Golf Classic was held on October 18, 2021 at Pine Valley Country Club in Wilmington, NC.

We thank all of our generous sponsors, our volunteers, all who participated, and the fine staffs at Reston National Golf Course and Pine Valley Country Club for making these very successful events.

Developments in Academic Year 2020-21

Covid Restrictions

In the academic year 2020-21, schools around the country and around the world struggled to meet their educational goals while trying to protect their students and staff from the Covid-19 virus. Covid restrictions in the schools that we partner with prevented our high school students from visiting the elementary schools and mentoring our young readers.

We considered setting up remote mentorship sessions but found that there were too many obstacles when considering such issues as access to technology, security, and providing sufficient monitoring and supervision. Readers Are Leaders, as a measure for quality and accountability, has always required that our mentoring sessions be monitored by our high school coaches and our elementary school staff.

Book Donations

Even though Covid restrictions suspended our mentoring activities, we were still able to work with many of our the schools to provide books for their struggling readers just as we did in the spring semester of 2020. In the 2020-21 school year, $35,727. was spent on books donated to our Readers Are Leaders students. We are pleased to note that of this amount, Bookworm Central donated $10,201 worth of books. We thank Bookworm for its generous donation. We worked with twenty of our elementary schools to provided 8,931 books to nearly 900 young readers – an average of about ten books per student. Again, our elementary schools were resourceful in their efforts to help us get engaging books into the hands of our young readers.


We have made plans to hold our golf tournament fundraiser in both Reston, Virginia and Wilmington, North Carolina in the fall of 2021, and will take the necessary precautions for the safety of our golfers and volunteers.

Developments in Academic Year 2019-20

The Advent of Covid 19

In 2019-20, we enlisted forty teams from twenty high schools across five counties to partner with our young students in twenty-five elementary schools and one community center.

We were able to complete the fall-winter session of our program. In this session, our mentoring partnerships brought together 462 elementary school students with their high school partners – a total of 924 students. Since most of our mentoring occurs in the fall-winter session, this completed 73% of the mentoring scheduled for the year.

However, just as many of our winter sports teams were wrapping up their final sessions and as the spring sport teams were about to get underway, the school year was abruptly cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools were shut down, and our spring program was cancelled.

The core of our Readers Are Leaders program has always been our mentoring – a joint effort between a high school mentor and an elementary school student who sit down together and focus on reading. However, during the Covid pandemic, such face-to-face interactions have not been possible.

Yet, even though our mentoring was halted before the spring session, we were able to distribute ten books to each of the 171 elementary students who had been scheduled to work with the our spring program. As schools shifted gear and remote learning became the norm, the dedicated teachers and administrators in our elementary schools made the extra effort to arrange for the safe drop-off or safe pick-up of books donated to our young readers. Our total book donation for 2019-20 was 6,330 books—ten books to each of our 633 elementary school students.

In the 2019-20 school year, even though we completed our fall-winter mentoring sessions, the pandemic prevented the testing done in the spring. As a result, our usual data collection of students’ reading scores, surveys, and feedback from those involved in our program was not available.

Annandale Innovation

Our Annandale HS girls’ basketball team supplemented their mentoring of students at Braddock ES with an innovative approach that focuses on English language skills. Many of the RAL students at Braddock ES are Spanish speaking and struggle with both speaking and reading English. Within the National Honor Society at Annandale HS, there is a group called the National English Honor Society, which is made up of juniors and seniors who speak fluently both Spanish and English, have excelled in class, and work on literacy outreach in the school and community. These students volunteered to join the girls’ basketball team in mentoring the elementary school students to focus on their English language skills as a way of improving both their speaking and reading skills. We applaud their effort.


The main fundraiser for Readers Are Leaders is our annual golf tournament, which had been held at Reston National Golf Course in Virginia for twelve years. We cancelled our 2020 tournament out of concerns for the health and safety our golfers and volunteers during the Covid pandemic.

However, we were able to hold our first golf tournament at Pine Valley Country Club in Wilmington, North Carolina after being assured that precautions were in place to create a safe environment for our volunteers and golfers. The funds raised by this event support our two mentoring partnerships in Wilmington: the partnership between John T. Hoggard HS and Sunset Park ES, and the partnership between New Hanover HS and Annie H. Snipes Academy of Arts & Design.

We also appreciate the support from the business community of Wilmington, NC for the six thousand dollar grant we received to help fund our program in their local schools. We are also in the process of building a relationship with the Brigade Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington (founded in 1937).

Corporate Sponsors