Reading. It’s one of the essential building blocks to learning. Strong reading skills and comprehension translate to better test scores and higher graduation rates, but the benefits of reading don’t stop at school success. Research shows that reading can lead to a deeper understanding of the world, a greater sense of empathy, and even stronger relationships between the reader and the listener.
CIS of Chicago’s Intensive Team supports young people at 30 public schools across the city. They meet with students and provide them with tools and strategies to make progress toward their academic, behavioral, social, and emotional goals.
At two schools where CIS team members are present – one on the West Side and one on the South Side – our Student Supports Managers created groups dedicated to fostering students’ love of reading.
At CICS Prairie Elementary School, Student Supports Manager Ms. Jeanine Pittman had the idea to start a girls’ book club for seventh and eighth graders after she saw its success at another school she supported. Initially, the group members selected a book (all genres welcome) and discussed a few chapters at a time during their group meetings.
The club provided the students with much more than just a space to read for pleasure. It became a space where the young people could feel confident sharing their opinions freely and without judgment. The students learned how to be in dialogue with each other, how to express kindness, how to be respectful, how to be curious, and how to ask questions of themselves and of the group.
This spring, some of Ms. Pittman’s book club members submitted essays to Do the Write Thing, a national writing contest that gives students the opportunity to share how violence has affected their lives and what can be done to stop it. “It was impressive to read their stories,” Ms. Pittman said. “I believe the book club has allowed them the space to speak their mind freely, take positive risks, make decisions based on their needs at the moment, and advocate for themselves.”
A seventh-grade member of Ms. Pittman’s book club visits a group of kindergarteners to read them a story. Ms. Pittman leads the group in a discussion on the book’s message and shares social and emotional lessons. She also facilitates an art activity based on the book’s theme.
At Hefferan Elementary School in West Garfield Park, Student Supports Manager Milton Davis created a book buddies program for fifth and sixth graders. Mr. Davis wanted a way to improve the school’s culture and climate, so he had the idea of giving older students a chance to connect with children in the early grades.
At least once a week, Mr. Davis’ book buddies read books to students in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade – right after recess. The timing of his program isn’t a coincidence. The reading time gives the younger students a space to de-escalate from recess play and readjust to the classroom environment; it also gives the older students a taste of managing a classroom. They have to work some of their leadership muscle to engage the younger students, Mr. Davis said, like when the children occasionally get distracted and let their attention wander.
Mr. Davis is encouraging his book buddies to make reading a part of their daily routine and read to their siblings at night. This not only helps them develop a love of reading, but it also helps them develop stronger relationships with their families – and make learning a priority at home. The effects of the book buddies program are already being felt at Hefferan. “Students are engaged,” Mr. Davis said, “and I am receiving positive feedback from the teacher about the students’ eagerness to participate.”