Persistence pays: Neff’s campaign hooks J.J. Watt as guest reader

Neff Elementary students had a dream that Houston Texans star J.J. Watt would come to their school to read to them, and it came true this week.
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The school had posted photos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram of students reading, along with a plea for Watt to come read to them. They created a hashtag, #Neffreads4JJ, and tagged Watt in the posts. “The purpose of the campaign was to show our students that literacy is important not just among what your teachers say or your principal says, but everyone thinks literacy is important,” Principal Manoj Gandhi said.

About six weeks after the campaign was launched, Watt responded. “I see you @Neff_ES, keep reading and I’ll see you when I’m back in town,” he said in a tweet. With just a few hours’ warning, the Texans star stopped by the school on Tuesday, April 29. The students gave Watt a big round of applause when he walked into the room and had many questions for him.

The school got to choose what Watt read. “We chose for him to read his comic book, ‘MegaWatt,’ not only because it was about him, but it also had a great story of hard work leading to success,” Gandhi said.

The comic book was projected on a screen behind Watt, so students were able to read along. Watt signed a copy of the comic book, which will be prominently displayed in the school’s library.

“Literacy is huge,” Watt said. “It’s so important for kids to grow up with reading and writing and to grow up in a good environment, whether it’s at home whether it’s at school, to get those learning points. With video games and everything today, kids are kind of falling apart in literacy and in school, so we want to make sure that they have a good foundation to build off for the rest of their lives.”

Watt tweeted following his appearance: “They started the hashtag #NeffReads4JJ over 70 days ago. Today I finally got to read to them.”

Gandhi said that getting students to read requires more than just telling them to do it – they need to get books in students’ hands. The school has secured a grant through First Books and worked with the Sharpstown Rotary Club to acquire books that the students will receive at the end of the year.

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