Reader today, leader tomorrow

Each summer, the UW’s Real Dawgs Read program helps children across Washington state discover the joys — and immense benefits — of reading.

Real Dawgs Read participant shows a certificate of completion.

How did you spend your summers growing up?

For some of us, summer meant getting to spend entire days curled up with a good book. But in today’s world of screens and social media, many young students are missing out on the educational and emotional benefits that reading can bring.

In 2015, the University of Washington decided to do something about it. As a way to help students fall in love with reading, one of the core skills required for academic success — and to get them excited about the idea of going to college, especially at the UW — the University launched the Real Dawgs Read program.

Real Dawgs Read participant shows a certificate of completion.

To participate in the program, K-8 students read (or are read to) at least 20 minutes a day for 30 days, recording each day in a journal sent to their school by the UW. Once the journal is complete, the student sends it back to the University in exchange for a certificate and a free Husky hat.

Administered by the Office of Trademarks & Licensing, the Real Dawgs Read program focused this year on partnerships with Title I schools across Washington — schools where more than half the students receive free or reduced-price lunch. The UW’s goal is to help students from all backgrounds understand that developing a reading habit is the first step toward higher education.

“My daughter has had trouble with reading, but she started this challenge and couldn’t stop,” one parent says. “It has helped her improve on so many levels.”

Deborah McCutchen, a professor at the UW College of Education

UW College of Education professor Deborah McCutchen

Indeed, studies show that reading directly impacts young learners, and it can set them on the path to becoming successful college students.

“There is a common perception that cognitive abilities have a causal role in reading skill, but there is substantial evidence suggesting that increased reading experience increases cognitive ability,” says Deborah McCutchen, a professor at the UW College of Education whose research focuses on learning sciences and human development. Real Dawgs Read participant shows a certificate of completion. “One study found that a measure of children’s exposure to print in first grade had effects even 10 years later. It predicted their 11th-grade scores on vocabulary and comprehension, as well as their general knowledge of history, literature and culture.”

To date, more than 2,100 students have sent in complete reading journals, listing classics like “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and favorites like the Harry Potter series among the books they enjoyed. Interest was so high this year that a second wave of journals went out to even more students.

Helping make Real Dawgs Read possible is Zephyr Headwear, a leading supplier of collegiate and pro sports headwear that donated the Husky hats for program participants. “I have found this program really exciting to watch grow,” says David Gormley, president and founder of Zephyr. “It’s great to be involved in something that does good for so many.”

Going through many of the journals, it’s easy to see how much the program has impacted its participants — and that a love of reading is being nurtured across the state. As one young student from Moses Lake wrote, “Thank you, UW, for giving me this chance to show how much I love to read.”

To see more photos of student readers, visit the Real Dawgs Wear Purple page at For more information about Real Dawgs Read, visit

Real Dawgs Read program locations in the state of Washington.

K-8 students across Washington state participated in the Real Dawgs Read program in 2017.