Vincent Jackson spent his day off Tuesday running extra routes through the Bay area community. In an effort to launch the Jackson In Action 83 Foundation's "Salute to Reading" program, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Pro Bowl wide receiver visited three Hillsborough County elementary schools - Ballast Point, Chiaramonte, and Tinker – along with team mascot Captain Fear and Buccaneers Cheerleaders Ingrid and Tricia.
Jackson used the visits to promote the importance of education and unveil a program that will inspire and reward local children to make reading improvements. The three schools he chose were no accident – Ballast Point and Chiaramonte fall within a five-mile radius of Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base and Tinker is actually located within the base's gates. Jackson's program is geared towards third, fourth and fifth-grade classes comprised significantly of children of Air Force Base personnel, continuing his foundation's emphasis on supporting military families.
"Education is the foundation for anything you want to do in life," said Jackson. "That's the way I was raised, coming from a military family."
Every month throughout the school year, a select number of students from the three schools will be chosen for their achievements according to criteria developed by the reading coaches and administrators at the respective schools. Those students will be invited to a special outing to One Buccaneer Place, where they will visit with Jackson and his teammates.
As part of Tuesday's program launch, Jackson announced the upcoming publication of a children's book authored by the wide receiver and his wife, Lindsey. The first in a series of three books designed to help military families discuss issues surrounding the deployment of a parent, the books' main character is a child in a military family named Danny DogTags.
In partnership with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the first book, entitled Danny Deals with Deployment, is scheduled for publication by Mascot Publishing by the end of the year. In support of the "Salute to Reading" program, Mascot also donated Bo, America's Commander in Leash to each third, fourth and fifth grade student at the three schools, along with a collection of various children's books for each school's library.
"We have 71 percent [of our students] this year on free and reduced lunch, so it's difficult for a lot of our kids to have experiences some of these children in the more affluent areas have," said Marie Valenti, principal at Chiaramonte Elementary. "But this will be a wonderful thing for these children. They got a celebrity to come out here and to promote the importance of reading."
Jackson, a self-proclaimed 'military brat,' was raised in a family where both parents served in the U.S. Army. In 2012, he launched the Jackson In Action 83 Foundation to support military families, with a focus on the educational, emotional and physical health of the families' children.
"I grew up traveling around, having to move from school to school, and sometimes it was tough," said Jackson. "I was behind, or it took me some time to catch up. I really had to work hard at an early age and my parents really instilled that no matter what I wanted to do, if I got good grades and a good education, the sky was the limit."
Though there are challenges that come from growing up in a military family, both Jackson and school administrators alike hoped the program would inspire the young group to read more often and understand the significant role it can play in their educational development.
"I want my children to be lifelong readers and I think this will get them headed in the right direction," added Valenti. "Some of them are already intrinsically motivated to read and others need that push, and hopefully this will do it."