Access to books greatly affects a child’s education from an early age. Growing up in a family that supports reading I took that privilege for granted. As far back as I can remember, I always had a book in my hand or a book in my face. My family was never rich by any means. However, I lived in an affluent suburb with access to exceptional schools and a public library. I looked forward to every Saturday. Saturdays in our house meant trips to the Public Library. I would hide under my bed for hours at a time with my books not wanting to be disturbed. And despite having plenty of friends growing up, I preferred to spend my time with my closest, most trusted confidants: Laura Ingalls, Anne of Green Gables, Jo March and Nancy Drew.
It wasn’t until I became older, though, with Church Mission Trips to such desolate places at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, working in soup kitchens and helping out with various charity events that my eyes were opened to the world around me outside of my books. And my empathy grew even more. In 2011, after several years of living in other places, I returned to the Kansas City area after my Dad’s Parkinson’s diagnosis. I had been greatly invested as a volunteer with the Read/Write Library in Chicago, but now being back in my home city, where half of my friends had moved away, I felt disconnected.
I wanted to become more involved. My first experience with Pages & Chapters was at the Barnes & Noble Gift Wrapping event in December 2012. This came about through our current Chairman of the Board Kate Garman, who I had met through an old mutual friend of mine, and she then introduced me to Jenny Albro, the Founder. Jenny saw the need for family involvement in shaping students’ educational growth after years of teaching in urban Kansas City and the Belton, Missouri school district. In turn this led her to start Pages & Chapters to help families foster a love of reading. As a strong advocate for literacy and a lover of books myself, I was excited to share my passions with area youth and perhaps learn some new methods in teaching my elementary school niece, who I spend a significant amount of time with. I, also, saw this as an opportunity to break out of my introverted shell.
I have no teacher training nor have I ever seen myself as a teacher. January 2013 at the Waldo Library was my first experience with Open Books, our family literacy workshops. Kristin Wark was the Site Director at the time and Becca Maddox, Cara Montgomery and I were to be the Literacy Mentors. The kids we mentor are Kindergarten through 5th grade. Over time, we’ve had many fundraisers, book drives and partnerships with local organizations such as Barnes & Noble, The Junior League of KC, Kauffman Scholars, Chuy’s, Hamburger Mary’s Bingo Nights, Planet Sub and Waldo Pizza. These partnerships have allowed us to provide a free book to each kid every week or month, a meal and raffle prizes for our “literacy-themed” games. Each session focuses on a different reading component: Fluency, Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary Development and Comprehension. We build off each week throughout the session in order to retain the skills and strategies they have acquired. Our survey results and student assessments demonstrate that we are successful. And will continue to succeed.
What makes our program unique is the focus on families versus just tutoring a child with reading. Because literacy is so much more than just reading words. We work with the parents and guardians to empower them to help their children after they leave our sessions. Most of the families that come to Open Books are from the urban core of Kansas City and some lack the access, opportunities, funds and skills that other families might receive elsewhere. It is heartbreaking to watch a kid cry over not being able to pronounce a word or know the meaning of that word, but when they master those words the joy of accomplishment on their face is tenfold. The sparkle and glow that shines through them has done more for me than the effect I believe I have had on them. Julio is a bright, funny 3rd grader. But unfortunately, a language barrier exists, as his parents only speak enough English to get by, and he attends a French School. While I teach him English, he in return teaches me Spanish. And we have bonded over our mutual love of Futbol. I have watched him progress over the summer and hopefully he returns again this fall.
Pages & Chapters has grown and expanded in just the past two years of my involvement, and I can’t wait to see where we continue to grow in our community. I believe literacy is a fundamental building block in shaping a child’s future abilities to succeed in society and all aspects of life. And Open Books is helping to bridge the gap with our families and make reading enjoyable. Becoming a Literacy Mentor has been the best decision I ever made.
By Lynne Hermansen
Pages & Chapters Literacy Mentor