Interview with Carolyn Rodriguez, Vice President, Program, and Administrative Manager of City National Bank/Reading is the Way Up
Los Angeles-based City National Bank established Reading is the Way Up in 2002 to address the plight of school libraries and the lack of current and compelling books available to students. To date, the program has placed over 170,000 books into the hands of students.
National Book Foundation: What inspired your Innovations in Reading-winning program?
Carolyn Rodriguez: Our belief is that a good education and the ability to learn throughout one’s career are vital to success in today’s world—and it all starts with reading. City National has a big stake in fostering a new generation of educated and informed youth. These young people are our future leaders, entrepreneurs, clients, and colleagues. That’s why we created Reading is the Way Up. This multifaceted literacy program is designed to address the plight of school libraries. The need is great. When we first launched our efforts in California during the spring of 2002, the state ranked amongst the lowest in the nation for school library funding. Sadly, while some progress has been made, much has not changed. Even in this age of technology, books remain the foundation for learning. While the situation is better today than it was several years ago, public school libraries still do not have enough books, especially those that are current and compelling for kids. At City National, we understand our responsibility for making a difference in the communities where we live and work.
NBF: What obstacles or challenges have you encountered along the way?
CR: I believe the biggest and most frustrating challenge remains making pathways into schools. We want to be able to reach as many schools as possible and getting them to take the time to understand what we do and what we can do for their students is a challenge. Schools, principals, and teachers have a lot of demands on them and making time for one more thing or activity is not always a priority for them, even though there is a direct benefit for their students.
NBF: What are the most satisfying aspects of the work your organization does?
CR: I would say the teacher grants portion of the program. City National colleagues donate through payroll deduction to support this part of the program and over the last eight years have committed over $700,000 from their paychecks that goes directly into the classroom to fund teacher literacy projects.
We also partner with Barnes & Noble and together we have put almost 250,000 books into the hands of students.
NBF: How has winning the Innovations in Reading Prize affected your organization?
CR: City National is honored to have been selected as a winner. This prestigious prize recognizes all of our accomplishments and validates all of the hard work City National colleagues have put into making this a stellar program.
NBF: What’s on the horizon for your organization for 2014?
CR: We made some great connections as a result of the Innovations in Reading Prize, and on March 19, we are going to have one of the National Book Award Finalists for poetry, Adrian Matejka, do a reading at one of our partner high schools in the Bronx. I will also be looking at ways to continue to strategically grow the program without diluting the focus.
About City National Bank for Reading Is the Way Up
City National Bank believes that a good education and the ability to learn throughout one’s career are vital to success in today’s world―and it all starts with reading.
Reading Is the Way Up was started in 2002 to address the plight of school libraries and the lack of current and compelling books available to students. To date, the program has placed over 170,000 books into the hands of students. City National has done this through strategic partnerships with Barnes & Noble and Reading Is Fundamental, with the goal of promoting book ownership.
In 2005, a literacy grant component was added to the program. Since then, more than $600,000 in grants have been awarded to elementary, middle, and high school teachers in the five states where City National has offices. In 2011, school author visits were added to the program, and each student in attendance gets a signed copy of the author's book. In addition, City National colleagues are encouraged to participate in the program and are given paid time off to do so.
The Reading Is the Way Up program has reached over 100,000 children and continues to look for creative ways to expand without losing the program’s focus.