It's 4 p.m. and the final bell has already run at the Chicago
International Charter School's Bucktown campus, nestled on a short
block of North Hamilton Avenue between a rectory and the
But on a second-floor classroom, about two dozen students aren't
yet done with the day's lessons. Paired with an adult, they settle
in for an hour of reading as part of a nonprofit outreach program
taking a big swing at literacy problems in Chicago.
Cameron, a second-grader sporting a CICS dark blue polo shirt,
cracks open a book about dinosaurs with Roger, a retired social
worker. MacKenzie and Mina peruse the bookcase. Megan, a recent
elementary education graduate, sits next to Adrian, a second-grader
with a mop of brown hair.
This is Open Books Buddies, which pairs students at Chicago
elementary schools with a mentor from the community. Now in its
second year, Open Books Buddies is a relatively new entry into the
Chicago literacy scene, and has its focus squarely on kids.
For an hour each week, all year long, the pairs read together at
12 public and charter schools across Chicago. Is Open Books Buddies at your child's
Become a buddy! >Find out how
Got old books? Consider donating them to Open Books' used
bookstore in downtown Chicago (they'll even come pick them up!) >Learn more
"We live in a city where half the kids don't graduate from high
school," says program director Anna Piepmeyer. "We're trying to get
them early, to get them engaged and keep them engaged. Otherwise,
the odds are stacked against them."
Groups like Open Books are battling those odds with consistency
and accountability. Kids meet with the same mentor each week and
sign a contract at the beginning of the year. They keep a list of
all the books they finish and track their reading-level progress
with program staff.
"I think seeing the same face every week, and them knowing that
we're going to be here when they walk in the door is really
important," says Megan Crist, a volunteer with Open Books.
Open Books' energetic staff of nine spends its weekday
afternoons hopping from school to school in their brightly colored
shirts - "we always say we go around looking like Skittles,"
Piepmeyer says. The group runs a used bookstore in River North and
uses the profits to fund its programming, which also includes
writing workshops and one-on-one mentoring.
While the students work on the nuts and bolts of reading, the
students are also growing their vocabularies -- and their
confidence. The classroom at Chicago International Charter School
is full of long, drawn-out syllables as kids try out new words.
"We take a very creative approach to education and we're all
about the love of reading," Piepmeyer says. "Our hope is that
students ... will develop that little seed that will grow into a
lifelong enthusiasm for reading and the written word."
See more of Liz's stories here.
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