Looking at this picture you would think she’s a star. A rock star? Fashion star? Maybe even a movie star? She is a star but probably not the type of star you’re thinking. She’s a literacy star changing discouraging illiteracy rates one book and one child at a time. While volunteering in Portland Public Schools during a time of deep funding cuts she discovered students falling further and further behind. She had to do something. She started a literacy based program called Change The Defintion or changethedef.com. By following the many models of social change through philanthropy, she created apparel for people to buy. A portion of the proceeds go toward literacy based programs and purchasing books for students in Portland. This past summer she implemented a pilot reading program for struggling readers at a local elementary school. The results are encouraging. She hopes to spread this model or something like it to schools across the country. Oh, I forgot to mention, her name just so happens to be Rebekah Star!
Hello Rebekah! How are you?
I’m doing well, growing!
Let’s jump right into it, tell us ALL about Change the Definition; how, why, when, and where…
I started Change The Definition as a way to use cool products to fund education. I got the idea from working as a volunteer in Portland Public Schools and seeing that as funding was continually being cut, our kids were falling faster behind. It really hurt me to see kids of color continually being thrown into this cycle of failure and defeat so I decided to do something about it!
I officially made the decision to start this apparel and accessories company in October of 2010 and launched our website a year later. We had a great response to our product! I have been working on fine tuning the message and becoming more focused on literacy instead of education in general. Literacy is the foundation of all other aspects of education.
I know you created a pilot program at Irvington school over the summer, how did that go and are you ready to do it again?
The summer literacy project went really well! We targeted students in 1st -3rd grade that were severely behind. Some did not even know thier ABC’s. They were taken through a rigorous boot camp style workshop for six weeks that involved a customized curriculum for the students based on their level of need. These kids came out of the program ready for a new school year. There were huge improvements in comprehension, word recognition, etc. There are so many components that make a student successful at reading, my goal is to make sure our kids have the proper tools to get them there! I am looking to expand my reach into other school districts across America. I would love to help as many kids as possible. So, we’ll see if we choose to host this particular type of literacy project next year.
Why is this work so important to you and why should people care?
It’s important for many reasons. Every child deserves an education no matter what economic situation they come from! Reading gives each student a foundation from which to grow and learn and stay in school. Do you know that if children are not reading proficiently by 3rd grade, 66% of those kids will end up in poverty or prison? Currently in America, 25% of students fall into that category. That number is huge! It costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year to support illiterate citizens. Illiteracy also contributes to a wealth of psychological, health and crime related issues. It has an effect on all of us wether we know it & care or not.
What tip/s would you give to parents with a young struggling reader?
Read to them and with them on a daily basis. Sound words out with them, have them participate. It should be fun for them!
We know reading is important. I know of a school here in Portland that bans graphic novels, any thoughts on this? What type of reading do you encourage; recreational, academic…
I encourage reading, period. If you know how to read it gives you the freedom and independence to learn about anything you want. It also enables you to do anything you want. You can learn about how great leaders created social change in our world or you can learn and teach yourself to become an architect or metalsmith. My late father is a perfect example of that. He was an intelligent man with no college degree, not even a high school diploma and he learned how to weld through his love for learning and reading. He was able to provide for us and take care of business because he had that basic skill that should be available to everyone.
Is there anything you can point to in your life that prepared you for this?
My parents have always been very generous and made it a priority to help people. I got that from them. So when one of my friends needed help in her classroom, she asked me and I accepted. That started everything. I was open and willing to give myself. I am very happy I did.
Complete this sentence in terms of the work you do through ChangeTheDef.com, I will be satisfied when…
I am able to provide 1 million books for kids living in poverty. I will also be happy when I am in the classroom volunteering on more of a full time basis. There are so many kids in need.
Lastly, are you single?
I am 100% single and ready for the right man to come along!