Saturday, September 14, 2013

Reading to First Graders

Yesterday I went to the United Way for literacy training.  Well, that's not exactly true.  I'm going to be a ReadingPal, which means I'll go to an elementary school once a week and read to one child for the rest of the school year.  We'll be given the books (thanks Scholastic!) and the order in which to read them, and we'll spend two weeks on each book.

Why, on top of my already busy schedule, am I doing this?  Through my social justice work with my church, I've come to know about the roughly 70% of third graders in Broward county who aren't reading at grade level.  It's a predictor of all sorts of sad outcomes. 

But how to fix it?  We've gone to the school board to request different reading programs, different pedagogies.  As I've looked at the huge group of church people who gather once a year for a Nehemiah action, I've thought, what would happen if we all just went to elementary schools and read to children?

So, when our school president passed on information from the United Way, I decided I couldn't pass up this opportunity.  It seemed easy enough.

And then I started having second thoughts.  We'd need to have fingerprinting done.  It was beginning to seem complicated.  I almost cancelled my plans.

Luckily, I was going with a friend, and when she wanted to change her mind, I talked her out of it; she did the same for me.

We went to the United Way building, and I was taken back to one of my earlier career plans when I was a college gal.  Yes, I planned to be a social worker and to change the world.

Then I did two summers of being a social worker in training, and I changed my mind.  The first summer was fun:  we had some funding, we did a great winterizing houses program, we coordinated with other agencies.  The second summer was grim.  My job was to answer the phones and to tell everyone we had no money.  I heard the most heartbreaking stories.  We still had no money.

So, I changed my mind.  I decided to go to grad school.  I'd be a college English teacher.  I'd change the world that way.

Go ahead and laugh at me.  I'll wait.

So, yes, my inner do-gooder is still alive and well.  That's one reason why I'm going to spend the academic year reading to a child.  But I also realize that if I'm changing one child's life, one year at a time, it will take a long time to change the world.

But it's a start.  And I need to feel like I'm doing something more than corralling e-mails and redoing assessment charts and wrestling with spreadsheets.

While I was there, I had an idea for a Flannery O'Connor-esque short story--after I had a panicky moment when I wondered if I was a character in a Flannery O'Connor short story.  But that's a blog post for a different day . . .

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