By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 21, 2022 at 9:03 AM

When the pandemic hit and kids were learning at home due to virtual school, a group of Milwaukee literacy advocates launched “Milwaukee: A City of Readers,” which put books into the hands of Milwaukeeans and made videos of them reading the books.

The videos, which aim to encourage a love of reading, are collected on this website.

One of the driving forces behind the program was Milwaukee Public Schools teacher Anne Groh, who leads a classroom of 1st-3rd graders at Maryland Avenue Montessori School.

We asked her to tell us more about the program.

Anne Groh
MPS teacher Anne Groh began the program with her students at Maryland Avenue Montessori School.

OnMilwaukee: What is a Milwaukee: A City of Readers?

Anne Groh: “Milwaukee: A City of Readers” is a video reading project that aims to motivate children to become better readers.  Each week, guest readers representing the Milwaukee community read an age and grade appropriate story on video for students to watch. The readers share their love for reading and encourage students to keep learning how to read. 

How did the idea/program come about?

Between March and June 2020 MPS began virtual instruction as a safety precaution to COVID.  In my classroom, the switch to virtual learning disrupted classroom routines, including shared reading times where teachers, parents and community members would read out loud to students. My students said they missed hearing stories and meeting people in the community. 

My students and I decided to ask commuity leaders to make a video of themselves reading to us so that we could still experience a read aloud. I purchased picture books from Rainbow Booksellers,  a local bookseller, and mailed them to folks including then-Mayor Barrett, Police Chief Norman, Judge Joe Donald, among others. I simply shared my students' idea and provided instructions for making an easy video using a phone or tablet.  

Not only did these leaders make outstanding videos, but they also added personal messages about the importance of learning how to read. 

My students enjoyed the book reading videos so much, they all wanted copies of the books.  Eventually, Marye Beth Dugan at Rainbow Booksellers asked why I was buying 30 copies of children's books.

I told her about my students' idea and the community support they were receiving.  She, in turn, shared the idea with Mary Kellner and Carol Stein, both advocates for early literacy in Milwaukee.

My students' idea became the video project called "Milwaukee: A City of Readers." 

How did the Greater Milwaukee Foundation become involved?

Marye Beth Dugan, Carol Stein and Mary Kellner wrote a grant to the GMF and were awarded funds to cover the initial costs needed to start making video recordings for a website. 

How are the readers and books chosen? 

I want to make sure students understand that people who have jobs also read. I initially chose Milwaukeeans who represent existing and emerging occupations: the trades, culinary, finance, environmentalism, education, police and firefighters, advocacy, technology, law etc.  Within a couple of weeks of the first video reading, my inbox blew up with people asking to read for the program. 

I was very fortunate to find a team of three plumbers read a story about a construction site.  One of the plumbers is deaf and signed the story while another who is dyslexic read the story.  Many readers shared their own struggles learning how to read and offered encouragement.  Several community members talked about learning to read in a native language as well as in English. 

I chose books by searching fiction or nonfiction picture books that matched the readers interests or occupation along with curricular areas taught in the early grades. I pulled three or so titles for each reader to choose from.  I usually dropped off the books a couple of days ahead of the videotaping so that each reader would have time to pick the title they liked best. 

Are you still adding more videos? Is there anyone special you're trying to get to read for a video?

There are plans to continue to add videos of Milwaukeeans this summer. Local and state leaders – not political – and leaders in local businesses are very influential for children just as children will one day be influential for them. It would be great to make that relationship visible through reading.

Of course, when I asked my students to name who they would like to have read to them, they mentioned NBA, NFL and MLB players.

How do you hope the videos will be used: in the classroom, at home, etc.?

The website can be used in classrooms, schools, at home. We would like children to have access to reading whenever they make that choice.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.