College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Statements Feature: Tackling Reading Proficiency One Book at a Time

Caleb Gipple

There’s a critical milestone for children at the end of the third grade, a milestone that can reverberate throughout the rest of their lives. And it involves something seemingly simple, something many may take for granted. Reading.

More specifically, reading proficiency, defined by most educators as a mastery of grade- and age-level expectations. 

Because, after third grade, an important transition occurs. Up to that point, students are learning to read; after that, they’re reading to learn. It goes without saying that if a student’s reading proficiency falls behind, their entire education falls behind as well.

University of Northern Iowa sophomore Caleb Gipple is well aware of this fact and of the raft of data that outlines the consequences of poor reading proficiency, such as increased high school drop-out rates and the litany of consequences that incurs, including lower earnings, higher unemployment and increased incarceration rates, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Gipple, a double major in political science and economics, decided to help tackle the problem by starting a project he calls Readers Today, Leaders Tomorrow, which aims to provide books to low-income children in the Cedar Valley. The idea earned him a $1,000 scholarship from the Principal Community Scholars Program, designed to encourage student leadership to meet community needs.

And the area has a need. Reading proficiency in Black Hawk County stood at 61.5 percent as of 2012. 

It’s a problem, particularly for children from low-income households. When students fall behind in reading proficiency, it is often because they don’t have access to books during the summer months, when school is not in session.

Gipple calls this, “the summer slip.” “If you look at the numbers, it makes it pretty clear,” Gipple said. “We have students that can’t access material, so they fall behind in class and become more vulnerable to dropping out.”

To tackle this problem, Gipple’s project will use donations to buy books at a discounted rate from his partners and then distribute them to schools. He will work with the schools to identify students from low-income households and link them up with books.

The project is still in its early phases, but Gipple hopes to donate 2,000 books – enough to give each student in need two or three books for the summer. “It’s a simple idea, but it’s powerful,” Gipple said. “If we can inspire passion in reading and learning in just five kids, that has the potential to be life-changing. If this only impacts a handful of kids, it will be worth it.”


Caleb recently gave the TEDx talk, “Why we need the F-Word in Schools,” encouraging us to make failure an embraced part of the educational system and our everyday lives. To see what other projects Caleb is working on, visit