Dr. Gina Doepker, director of the Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center at VSU, has grown from a child once struggling with reading into a local advocate for literacy in children.
“I had very poor eyesight,” Dr. Doepker said. “I was a slow reader and as a result, I was always put in the lowest reading group. I knew I could do it—the teachers just couldn’t see it.”
Eventually Doepker not only showed her teachers that she could be a better reader, but went on to get her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, masters in reading endorsement and a doctorate in literacy. Her first teaching job was as a language arts teacher.
“It was probably one of my favorite things to teach,” Doepker said. “I got to help these children to read interesting material and to get engaged in that material.”
Now an avid reader, Doepker donates her time teaching kids not only how to read, but also how to enjoy reading. Her recent campaign, Dr. D, I READ!, promotes reading not only for school, but also for pleasure.
Doepker says her work is motivated by her personal struggles with reading.
“I find that most kids are similar,” Doepker said. “They have had negative experiences and that really hinders their confidence and motivation. It’s the same thing I felt.”
According to Doepker, even the children at Valdosta Early College Academy (VECA) that don’t struggle with reading, only read for school.
“A lot of the children we work with are reluctant readers who find reading to be a chore,” Doepker said. “I wanted to show them that so many different people read for so many different reasons.”
The campaign, which started in May 2012, will last for a year. According to Doepker, the campaign is receiving a warm reaction from the community and she hopes to have 10,000 names by May 2013.
“When I first started out, people asked if I was serious,” Doepker said. “But then the names just started coming in.”
Dr. D, I READ! officially reached over 5,000 names as of Friday. Participants, who sign their names signifying they are readers, are then given a post-it note with their name, number, and state. According to Doepker, she has collected names from all 50 states.
The color-coded post-it notes are then placed on the mural outside of the Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center located in the Dewar College of Education—white for international readers and hot-pink for celebrity readers.
Scott Speed with NASCAR, Michael Leavine with the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) and David Biedrzycki, children’s book author, are three celebrities who have made the commitment to read.
“I would really like to have more children’s book authors on the mural,” Doepker said. “The kids seem to like that the most.”
The children at VECA and West Side Elementary school have also all signed their names to the mural and finding their personal post-it note has become a game for them.
“It’s funny to see,” Doepker said. “The kids take time finding their names on the wall. And when they find it, they get so excited.”
While Doepker has no current plans for a future campaign, she says she will always push to increase literacy in children in order to help them in the future.
“When you read for pleasure, you end up reading more and therefore your reading skills increase,” Doepker said. “Then you can read more complex texts—enhancing your critical thinking skills.”
Doepker also pushes for more reading in the older generation as well. According to her, it’s never too late to start.
“Find what you like,” Doepker said. “It doesn’t have to start with big books. It could be comic strips, jokes books, whatever.”
To sign up with the campaign, visit the Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center in the Dewar College of Education or email Dr. Doepker at email@example.com.