While some students are taking a break from books for the summer, 40 teens are grabbing them by the handfuls.
Promising Pages, a nonprofit that donates used books to high-risk children, recently launched “Team Read, 2014.” Forty teen-interns will give out approximately 30,000 books to around 3,000 high-risk children throughout the summer as part of the new campaign. The teens will read one-on-one, hand out books as wrapped presents, collect used books and host “Magic Book parties” while gaining leadership experience and high school credit for the internship through Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
“Our job is to make kids excited about reading,” Kristina Cruise, executive director and founder of Promising Pages, said. “It’s not enough to just hand a child a book. We make kids, who could have never had a book before, gain a positive experience from reading.”
Team Read, now in its third year, has attracted teens from across the region, including from Providence, Ardrey Kell, South Mecklenburg, Myers Park and other high schools, vying for the 40 internship spots.
“The interns are the heart and soul of the program,” Cruise said. “They are passionate and line up with the program’s beliefs.”
One of this year’s interns, 16-year-old Haley Savage of South Mecklenburg High School, said she couldn’t wait to see the change and impact her work with the program will have on the community throughout the summer.
Wells Fargo and Dilworth South End Rotary are this year’s presenting sponsors for the program, and University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor of elementary education Bruce Taylor trained the interns on early literacy intervention tactics during an orientation on Friday, June 13.
“I teach the interns the dos and don’ts of introducing reading to young people,” Taylor said. “They learn how to find the right book for a child and how to read out loud with a child.”
Cruise characterizes early literacy intervention as “anything that happens with a book when a child is young.” Underprivileged children might not have access to books at a young age due to finances, so Team Read can potentially give these children their first experience with a book.
“We open up that new page in their lives,” Cruise said.
Team Read partners with various early reading programs, including Y-Readers, A Better World, the Crisis Assistance Ministry and more to strengthen existing programs and excite kids about reading, Cruise said. A key part of that effort are the “Magic Book parties,” where the team gathers eager readers to meet their mascot, a bookworm, who holds a “magic book” that represents a step toward success.
“When kids touch the book, we tell them they now have the magic to be whatever they want to be, with the condition that they be lifelong readers,” Cruise said.
The children receive “bookworm books” at the parties, which are used books avid readers want to pass on. The interns assess appropriate reading level books for the children.
“It’s special when we can tell them that another bookworm wanted to give the book to them,” Cruise said. “The kids know those books are special because someone wanted them to know about the story.”
Although the students often come to the program because they need extra reading help, the program does not focus on phonics, but rather the enjoyment of the reading experience.
“Sometimes we get caught in correcting a reader rather than just enjoying reading,” Taylor said. “There is a time and a place to correct, but it’s more about making them self-aware readers and finding enjoyment. Enjoyment makes better readers.”
According to the National Adult Literacy Survey from the U.S. Department of Education, children who have not developed basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out in later years. Cruise said Team Read seeks to create a positive connotation early on with reading.
“We train kids to be bookworms and appreciate good books,” Cruise said.
Taylor believes the best way to improve reading skills and make the task an encouraging experience is exposure to reading.
“Frequent reading is the best way to learn to read,” Taylor said. “It’s just like dancing; you need to practice.”
Promising Pages business manager Bill Gill said he believes Cruise created a “genius model.”
“It’s cool because there is genius behind (the program’s) concepts by making reading fun,” Gill said. “What’s extraordinary is that we have the ability to impact an entire generation. If we can get these third-graders reading at a third-grade level, we are setting them up for success in life.”
Team Read is not only beneficial for new readers, but for the teen interns, as well.
“It is through Promising Pages that I had the chance to fully understand the need in our community and was given the opportunity to jump in and make a difference in the lives of many children,” said Allie Halter, a 2011 Promising Pages intern. The 19-year-old will lead this year’s team of interns. In her first summer with the program, Halter collected more than 4,000 books and another 8,000 books throughout the following year.
“I believe in Promising Pages’s mission with my whole heart and I truly believe that we can change the world one book at a time,” Halter said.
Promising Pages also was recognized for being environmentally friendly. The organization won a 2014 Sustain Charlotte Award for Waste Reduction, as well as the 2012 Legend Leadership Award from The Dale Earnhardt Foundation.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.promisingpages.com if you would like to donate books or funds to Promising Pages.