Former UNC learning specialist starts virtual reading program for student athletes

athlete-reading-UNCFormer UNC-Chapel Hill learning specialist Mary Willingham, a public critic of college athletes’ academic preparedness, particularly in football and basketball programs, says she wants to help athletes before they get to college.

Willingham is leading an effort to launch a virtual reading program for student-athletes called PCRead. Toward that end, she’s launched a crowdfunding campaign on the website Indiegogo to try to raise $120,000 for the project.

In an interview Wednesday, she said the program will aim to improve student-athletes’ reading skills starting at the middle school level. If she gets the money, she hopes to start the program as a pilot in January.

“The NCAA should be doing this, the K-12 system should be doing this,” Willingham said. “We’re admitting them without being able to teach them because they’re so underprepared. And that’s an overwhelming majority of athletes in the profit sports.”

Willingham has been a critic of student-athlete preparedness. Earlier this year, she reported findings to CNN of low literacy levels of football and basketball athletes at UNC-Chapel Hill between 2004 and 2012. Her findings were disputed by university reviewers.

She later resigned from her position at the school and filed suit against the university and the UNC-system claiming that she faced retaliation in violation of her First Amendment rights and that she should be covered under a state whistleblower law for raising concerns about alleged improper treatment for student-athletes at the school. She denied comment on the lawsuit.

For PCRead, Willingham said the idea would be to use the money raised to buy access to existing software — such as the reading speech, comprehension and fluency program AceReader  — for young student-athletes.

In addition, she said she wants to tailor the reading programs to make them interesting for athletes. She also wants to get coaches involved to help get students “engaged in reading and writing so that they stay on grade level.”

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