NEW YORK -- Yankees manager Joe Girardi wore a different hat on Tuesday morning, but the skipper's message for the approximately 700 children of P.S. 35 was eerily similar to what Girardi preaches for his playoff-bound team.
Sporting a khaki colored cap with the non-profit Pencil organization's logo scrawled across the top, Girardi explained to the group of kindergarten through fifth graders that learning to enjoy reading is the first goal in winning the school's Read-A-Thon challenge, much like the Yankees first goal of an American League East pennant.
And just like Girardi's Yankees have their sights set on the best record in baseball and a World Series ring, the Bronx schoolchildren also have a long-term goal with an enticing payoff. While the school is unsure about the exact prizes awarded for the program's winners, the classroom that reads the most and shows the largest improvement in its reading scores is in line to receive a pizza party and possibly some Yankees-related rewards.
"There's nothing better in New York than having the Yankees involved in whatever you're doing," said PENCIL president Michael Haberman, whose group focuses on finding innovative solutions to help New York City's public schools. "So having Joe [Girardi] and [vice president/ assistant general manager] Jean Afterman is just a huge asset for us."
As a partner with P.S. 35's principal Graciela Navarro, Afterman and the Yankees staff have already served as mentors for the students, and have collaborated with PENCIL to kick off a year-long Read-a-thon aimed at making reading more engaging. Through this new initiative, the school aims to make the same kinds of gains in literacy as it has in math, so that every student makes progress.
"To me, as far as a learning foundation, it all starts with reading," said Girardi, who along with wife Kim, encourages his three children to read a half an hour each night.
"It just sets them up for later and makes learning easier for them," he said. " All kids learn at different levels and at different speeds, but if you have the foundation of reading, it's definitely going to help."
The program's partners are hoping the combination of an incentive-based contest and the backing of Girardi , who will be checking in with the school all year, will create a buzz for books.
"We care about these kids," Girardi said of P.S. 35, which was also the first school to visit the new Yankee Stadium earlier this season. "These are kids in our neighborhood; [the school] is right around the street from the ballpark. And [we will do] whatever we can do to help these kids become what they can become, because there's so many distractions in our world where kids can go down the wrong path. If we can help these kids, that's our job."
The non-profit PENCIL group is in about 400 schools throughout the City, with plans to expand to Baltimore this fall.
Brittany Ghiroli is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.