Union County Public Schools is always looking for new ways to captivate their students and engage with the community.


This year, they did both through a new literacy push in partnership with United Way.


Called “Books & Brackets,” the literacy awareness program generated intense completion throughout the month of March among all 30 elementary schools, with the schools reading the most minutes advancing each week in a bracket mirroring the March Madness basketball tournament.


Given our ongoing focus on education, and in particular on 3rd grade reading, United Way helped sponsor the program and collaborated with UCPS to promote it. By the end of the challenge, the system’s approximately 3,000 third graders had read a staggering 26 million minutes of books.


“We have to keep literacy at the forefront of everything we do,” said Dr. Andrew Houlihan, UCPS Superintendent, who serves on United Way’s board in Union County. “By the time students enter third grade, reading is critically important to their future. This is a fun way to encourage reading, recognize students, and connect with community partners to support literacy efforts.”


Well beyond that high-profile push in March, UCPS’s partnership with United Way extends all year long. Dr. Tom Bulla was United Way’s 2016 Day of Caring chair for Union County, and will again serve as our Day of Caring chair this fall, helping us engage more than 1,300 local volunteers in some 130 projects across the county.


Current and retired UCPS employees have been involved on our Community Investment councils to determine where United Way funding can generate the greatest local impact, and others volunteer with United Way year-round.


Most of all, UCPS gives back very generously, recently winning our Top Employee Campaign award for raising over $195,000 for United Way.


“Union County Public Schools has provided consistent leadership over many, many years, from the very top, along with passionate staff and teachers across the system,” said Richard Heins, United Way’s regional vice president of county operations. “They invite us in to speak within their schools, and their teachers value the support that United Way provides their children. It’s truly the model partnership.”