When I came to Hamilton this fall, like most freshmen I naturally wanted to find a few things to keep me occupied outside of classes and the friends I hoped to meet (I did). I tried to make the choir (I didn’t), I signed up for Her Campus, and I also wanted to participate in some sort of community service. I came across America Reads: an initiative to help elementary school kids read more proficiently.
I’ve never had a lot of experience with kids and the idea of working with them seemed a little intimidating, but I thought a one-on-one activity might go well. I also loved reading when I was a kid (and still do!) and I think it’s really important that children learn to read well, for their own entertainment as well as for academic benefit as they get older.
Due to various logistical complications, we didn’t get started until this semester, and we’re no longer technically associated with America Reads. However, our mission and process remain pretty much the same, and now we are Hamilton Reads.
Twice a week, I rode in a Jitney with eleven other reading tutors to an elementary school in Rome, where most of us worked with second graders with a few first graders mixed in. I spent most of the semester working with a seven-year-old boy, though there were a few weeks when we were joined by a first grader.
Some background on the school we visited this semester: before starting our tutoring sessions, we learned a bit about the school and its students. Rome is a community with a lot of families that struggle financially. At any institution of higher education, there are students of all types of backgrounds, but at a school like Hamilton I imagine many students didn’t have a lot of financial obstacles growing up. By contrast, a very high percentage of kids at the elementary school in Rome are on a reduced or free lunch plan. Children in poorer families are often at a disadvantage in school as well; their families don’t have the same academic resources that some others do. We were told it was likely many kids in the program might not even have any books at home.
As I got to know my second grader, I learned that his family didn’t have much money at all, and though he did tell me about a book he liked to read with them, it didn’t sound like they had a lot of books. He’s a very sweet child and obviously intelligent, but like most of the other kids in the Hamilton Reads program, he reads below reading level. When I first met him, he had a lot of trouble sounding out words and it took him a long time and a lot of help from me to get through even short and simple texts. At first, it was a little hard for me to figure out how to best interact with him so he would feel comfortable and be able to learn. But as the semester went on, it got easier. We got along really well, even if the experience of working with kids still felt new to me. By the end of the program, he did show improvement.
This was a great experience and I’m glad I did it. I used to think that I wouldn’t be suited to working with kids and wouldn’t enjoy it, but Hamilton Reads taught me that venturing out of my comfort zone can be rewarding!
Not only was I personally happy to be a part of Hamilton Reads, but I also think it’s a really important program. I firmly believe that public education needs to get more attention and funding, especially in communities where a lot of students come from poor families and don’t have a lot of resources.