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Former Chicago Bears player reads to Heartland Head Start students

Five adults holding goodie bags in front of a classroom of preschoolers with a large monitor behind them
Erik Dedo
Students at Heartland Head Start in Bloomington participated this week in Homeroom Huddles, where they heard Babatunde “Baba” Oshinowo Jr. read to them remotely.

A group of preschool classes at Heartland Head Start had a fun, educational surprise this week. Former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Babatunde “Baba” Oshinowo Jr. joined the classes over Zoom to read several books with the students from the Bloomington and Pontiac locations.

The Bears launched their Homeroom Huddles program in partnership with PNC Bank in 2018. Since that time, they’ve visited over 120 preschool classrooms across Illinois.

This was the first such event of 2024.

“I have the ability to just get out in the community, work hand in hand with these people, these staff members and educators that are really making a difference in these kids' lives, which is pretty amazing," PNC volunteer Michael Fogle said of his time in the classroom.

Carolina Panthers' Babatunde Oshinowo during their NFL football minicamp on Friday, May 1, 2009 in Charlotte, N.C.
Rick Havner
AP file
Football player Babatunde Oshinowo during an NFL football minicamp in 2009 in Charlotte, N.C.

The students had a valuable experience, according to one of Heartland's lead teachers, Sierra Rush.

“I think it was good, definitely something new, definitely something that the kids needed,” Rush said.

She believes having somebody with a different style of reading come in to spend time with students can have a positive effect as well.

“I think they know that reading is fundamental. The kids enjoy reading, but having someone different who they don’t know, in a different environment read to them is very impactful,” she said.

Oshinowo was a sixth-round pick by the Cleveland Browns, and he played one game for the Bears during the 2007 season.

Even though the students, and their parents, may not know who he is, the Chicago Bears name holds weight, and can help inspire the kids to read, according to Rush.

“Having someone who not necessarily the kids look up to, but more so the parents and they can go back and be like, ‘Hey, somebody from the Chicago Bears read me a book,' so it definitely had a positive impact,” Rush said.

Heartland Head Start is an early childhood and family development program serving McLean and Livingston counties.

Erik Dedo is a reporting and audio production intern at WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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