Today’s new member feature is one very near and dear to my heart. “You get sentimental and gushy about everything, Kristin,” you point out, and rightfully so. I do have a great big bleeding heart. Sorry about all the bleeding you guys! But it is true that I, like any other human person, have my pet causes and passions. Youth literacy is a big one.
I myself have been an avid reader and writer from my days as a socially awkward but well-meaning elementary schooler. Did you have “I Love to Read,” or a similar program that awarded prizes to students based on how many books they’d read and kept track of in a month? The ultimate was winning a pizza party. You want kids to read? Put a pizza at the top of a towering bookshelf and watch them clamor to the top.
Pizza: The Great Incentivizer.
My literate pizza party days long behind me, I’ve continued my love affair with the written word and its capacity to affect lives not just by keeping my own shelves brimming, but also by spending time volunteering with several amazing local organizations that promote and nurture youth literacy. I cannot stress enough the challenge and the joy of helping kids – many of whom have severely limited access to books, libraries, and intensive literacy instruction – read and understand and love literature.
But literacy is not just about reading books. It’s about understanding how language works to convey ideas and connect human beings to one another and communities that are not as immediate or as tangible as the one outside your door. Literacy implies fluency and the ability to use a shared language to communicate.
Unfortunately, prohibitive budget cuts and teacher fatigue and overstuffed classrooms in the public school system often leave some children – many of them English language learners and many more from low-income homes – floundering when it comes to on-track literacy.
Barry Elementary is a public school that is specifically designed to wrangle these learners early on in their education, get them back on track, and equip them with the fluency skills they’ll need to continue to thrive well after elementary school.
The John Barry Elementary School is a neighborhood school located on the northwest side of Chicago in the Hermosa community. It serves 900 students in Pre-kindergarten through grade 6.
As a neighborhood school, the John Barry Elementary School provides a general program of instruction, a bilingual program for Spanish-speaking English Language Learners (ELL) and English as a Second Language (ESL) services for non-Spanish speaking English Language Learners. Approximately, 99 students (10 percent) receive special education services for speech and language, learning disabilities, cognitive delays, emotional behavior disorders, and autism in resource, instructional and self-contained settings.
The students at Barry are, like students everywhere, entitled to high-quality education and focused instruction that is specialized to suit each child’s unique needs. School-wide enrichment, summer school, and after-school programs, as well as a rich assortment of arts, music, and reading resource programs round out the learning experience. By giving children ample opportunities to build stronger fluency and exercise their skills in social as well as academic settings, Barry prepares students to enter adolescence – a trying period in any youth’s life – confidently, able to keep up academically and communicate clearly.
Barry Elementary is one of the beneficiaries of Zealous Good’s partnership with Atomic Comics, and books donated through those events will help promote literacy instruction at the school.
They are also currently seeking in-kind donations of posters from the American Library Association and other pro-literacy organizations, as well as office and school supplies. Their full wish list can be seen here!