Emerald City Theatre is Inspiring a Love of Reading in Chicago Students (and You Can Help)

Since 2012, Chicago’s Emerald City Theatre has provided free arts education programming to more than 18,000 low-income Chicago Public Schools students. Each year, powered by the collective strength of the company’s One Fund, second and third graders see a free theatre performance and receive a companion book, allowing them to have an unforgettable experience with their peers, then the ability to reinforce the story’s lessons at home. Made up of corporate, foundation, and individual donors, the One Fund is the engine that powers this far-reaching initiative, giving Chicago’s youth the tools for academic and emotional success.

With only half of CPS third grade students reading at grade level, programming of this nature is crucial to helping rectify low rates of literacy and inspiring a long-term love of reading. In fact, across low-income Chicago homes there is an average of only one children’s book for every 300 kids. This compares with middle class households where each individual child has an average of 13 books. Without providing low-income families the tools they need to succeed, it is impossible to expect them to escape the cycle of poverty. These tools include books to inspire early readers, which helps to build a life-long love of stories and the opportunity to envision and realize a better world. Through its One Fund, Emerald City Theatre is working to address the lack of books available to Chicago’s most vulnerable young people and to inspire those same youth with the stories we tell on stage.

Emerald City Theatre: One Fund book distribution day
One Fund book distribution day for Emerald City Theatre. (Photo by Hayley Nguyen.)

The power of a free theatrical performance — like Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” and a free copy of this same book — is immeasurable. For many, that will be the first book they own and it has a profound impact on academic potential. In fact, teachers tell us that the books distributed through Emerald City’s One Fund help to teach new vocabulary, improve students’ self-esteem, support the needs of English language learners, teach social and emotional skills, and improve conflict resolution amongst peers. Often this program can also help to raise a school’s Creative Certification Level. Most importantly, teachers say that this immersive programming catalyzes a love of reading.

As our signature youth engagement initiative continues to grow, the One Fund is providing new ways for teachers to involve their students, including the chance to experience theatre through a live video stream. In a special one-year expansion of the program in 2018, Emerald City inspired 55,909 second and third grade students in Chicago Public Schools by providing in their classroom a free streamed performance of a stage adaptation from the “Magic Tree House” series, and giving that same “Magic Tree House” book free to each student. Designed to address the current literacy crisis by inspiring early learners through play and reading, the One Fund is aiming to serve more and more students each year.

Emerald City Theatre — One Fund
One Fund book distribution day for Emerald City Theatre. (Photo by Hayley Nguyen.)

Emerald City Theatre’s goal is to raise $100,000 in spring 2019 to deliver the program to 5,000 elementary students.

You can become part of helping to solve Chicago’s literacy crisis by supporting the One Fund. Visit emeraldcitytheatre.com/onefund to learn more about the program and to contribute. Every $20 donation to the One Fund delivers one play and one book to one child.