After hearing about a new service opportunity happening on campus, TJC student Jessica Skinner took the chance to enter the children’s lives of Bell Elementary School.
Skinner was able to become very close to 10 fourth and fifth grade girls who were chosen to be a part of this after-school book club. In the weeks she spent with these girls, they read “The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes. The book comes from the perspective of a girl who has been bullied.
Unlike most students, Skinner was not affiliated with any group or program, when she signed up to do the book club. Skinner is a psychology major at TJC who had the desire to make an impact on Bell Elementary students.
Not only was Skinner able show the importance of reading, but she was able to teach the girls the harmful effects of bullying.
“I was never a reader. I wish I had been as a child, because I see my friends today who loved to read as a child and their vocabulary is much larger,” Skinner said. “This makes reading at their age that much more important and I am glad I can show up and help them getting started in reading.”
After the six weeks of the book club was over, Skinner continued to have a close relationship with the girls and took time outside of volunteering to get ice cream with her them.
TJC offers a program called “Quest,” which is a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) which helps in the reading comprehension of students. This focuses on helping faculty understand how to help students in courses so they can be better readers and find ways to help them through tutoring. TJC decided to further its outreach to the next generation of students.
In the fall semester, TJC started its after-school reading program at Bell Elementary with eight book clubs. Not only was TJC asked to continue the program by TISD, but the program is being requested to expand by other schools.
In the book club, the students got to choose the book that they would read. This gave the students the opportunity to choose a book in which they are interested.
“The thing that was so impressive to me was how quickly the kids at Bell fell in love with our students,” said Quest Faculty Liaison, Melanie Ward. “They would look for them on Tuesdays. If somebody couldn’t come on a day, they were visibly upset by it. That just showed a lot of relationships there. The principal has said that she has seen a lot of benefit from it. The students have become excited and engaged more with the reading.”
The teachers at Bell brought the kids to TJC to visit some of their reading mentors in order to show the students how accessible the college is.
“Many of the people that we had involved genuinely enjoyed children and enjoyed being a positive influence for kids. The kids see it as someone who is spending direct time with them, giving them some attention that they may not get during the school day,” said Ward.
Michael Strait also was a book club volunteer at Bell Elementary. His group of boys read “I Survived a Japanese Tsunami” by Lauren Tarshis. After a couple of visits, he knew the boys in his group by name. No longer did he feel like he was a college student reading with children. Instead, he was reading with friends.
“I love seeing the kids learning and reading. I always looked forward to it,” Strait said. “Through the friendship we made, I was able to get them more excited about reading. We were reading as a group. In fact, the boys even began to read ahead of what they were assigned to read. They wanted to be able to talk about it more instead of the times we met once a week.”
Not only did the children work on their reading skills in a fun environment, but they also made an impact on Strait.
“Yes, I was there to help them with their reading, but I also learned a lot from them. Kids don’t know how to say a lot of things on their minds. But I learned that, as you get to know each other better, you are able to understand them better, and this allows them to open up more,” Strait said.
Ursula Jacobs read “Judy Moody Goes to College” by Megan McDonald with her group. This taught the differences between elementary school and college to the children.
“It was great to share my excitement about reading with the kids,” said Jacobs. “We got to show them that there is more to reading and can be very fun. That is something that even I was reminded as an adult. We also got to connect the book to real life and how college allows you to take the classes that you are interested in and express individuality. The kids were amazed that in college you get to pick what you eat.”
Those interested in volunteering for the book club can contact Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org. The program will start again on March 23 and will continue through April 27. To be a part of this program, one must be willing to be friendly with children.
TISD policy requires the student reader to undergo a background check for the safety of the children. The students must be willing work with one or two other book club leaders for each group.
One also needs to read the book beforehand and do a previously assigned activity that generally consists of a small craft. The book club meets once a week for about an hour. During this time, the students will read and discuss portions of the book with the children.