Today’s guest post comes from Olusola Gilbert, Project Support Specialist, AmeriCorps National Direct at HandsOn Broward
When I was given the opportunity to introduce the Minnesota Reading Corps’ Repeated Read Aloud technique to an early childhood learning center through my work with HandsOn Broward, I knew it was meant to give children the opportunity to get a head start on building their vocabulary and reading level. However, when a direct connection between the Tiny Town Academy and our local Boys and Girls Club was established, the actual benefit exceeded my expectation.
Tiny Town and the Boys and Girls Club are just across the street from one another. During our work to connect resident leaders to service opportunities in the neighborhood of North Lauderdale, we realized that the two organizations could provide great benefits to one another. The Boys and Girls Club had young leaders that were looking to volunteer and the children at Tiny Town Academy were in need of some volunteers to read to them. When the two came together, it was a perfect fit! After grabbing their reading books and vocabulary cards, the teens are able to take just a few steps out their front door to join our reading sessions.
Whenever the teens and I walk into Tiny Town we are greeted with “Hi Teachers!” and an occasional leg hug by some of the preschoolers. The teens introduce themselves and the books they will be reading, hoping to see a few eyes light up with excitement in the audience. Shortly after they’ve read for a few minutes, the teens and children begin to break out of their comfort shells, shouting out vocabulary words and moving all around the room. It’s amazing to see how the teens make reading more animated, which makes it more fun and engaging for the 5 year olds (it definitely makes me rethink how I’ll read to my 5 year-old cousin in the future)! But most of all, what makes the program worthwhile is when the children show that they are learning by being able to recall the vocabulary words they discussed the week before.
Gilma Segarra, the director of the Tiny Town Academy, has been very welcoming and always vocalizes her gratuity for the teens’ involvement, and the preschoolers’ willingness to interact with the teen volunteers has been extremely rewarding for them. In my opinion, anything that involves empowering young people has always had its rewards. When I am involved, it gives me purpose. It has been quite refreshing to share that feeling of purpose with the teen volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club. They are the age where social media is highly prioritized and constantly tapped into for numerous hours after school. But through their service, many of the teens are stepping back and finding that an hour and a half per week spent volunteering can create a positive change in their community. The teen volunteers have made the program a higher priority than updating their statuses online because they see how valuable reading at least one book each week is to the children that will one day be “filling their shoes”. Over time, the teens have created personal connections to the children and through reading books, and they are helping the children to not only build their vocabulary but also build character. There is nothing nicer than to equip the people in your community to be all that they can be. Literacy has been a great way for the teens to do so. I have seen the value in this program and it is extremely satisfying to be able to see a child who is normally quietly listening in the corner, shout out the vocabulary word of the day with sheer confidence.
This program has had a very positive impact on me, and most importantly, the youth in the North Lauderdale community. It is an impact that will be transferred to those around them. The preschoolers are enhancing their literacy, while expanding their curiosity and yearning to learn more. The teens are developing their leadership skills and being empowered to be a positive influence for the younger generation. Both of these different age groups stand on common ground because they are the future leaders of their community, and will be equipped to inspire the children of the future to carry on their legacy.
This summer you can make your mark on literacy and the world and inspire others to do the same through generationOn’s Community Action Heroes summer program! Visit http://www.communityactionheroes.generationon.org/literacy to find out more about the range of youth service projects on literacy that you can get involved in locally, as well as the national recognition and prizes that you can win for your creativity and effort.