‘Symbiotic’ program helps children and families while teachers gain field experience toward Masters degrees
Thirteen-year-old Maxwell Drumgold enjoys reading about robotics, how video games are made and the evolution of animals. And he thanks The City College of New York School of Education’s Afterschool Literacy Enrichment Program for nurturing his reading skills.
Maxwell is one of hundreds of young people living near CCNY who have benefited from the program since it was begun in 2000. From age six to 12, the eighth grader at PS/MS 149 in Upper Manhattan participated in the weekly program taught by graduate students in the School of Education’s literacy program.
“It helped improve my reading skills, my comprehension skills and my writing. I also learned how to do research on multiple topics,” said Maxwell. The Bronx resident even credits the literacy program for the Most Improved Student Award he received in fifth grade.
A large body of research has documented the importance of early literacy to success in school. Students who achieve are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college.
To overcome the challenges of literacy among school age children, the New York City Department of Education in July 2010 instituted The Common Core State Standards for
English Language Arts & Literacy. It requires that all students be able to read and comprehend texts of steadily increasing complexity as they progress through school so that they can independently read a range of texts.
Separately, the CCNY literacy program has been pitching in, focusing primarily on comprehension of texts that children care about. The premise is that such texts are more likely to be engaging, relevant and useful in developing the children’s skills and confidence in literacy.
And while the program has helped public school students like Maxwell develop their reading comprehension and writing skills, it also provides invaluable field experience for teachers pursuing the MS in education degree at CCNY with a specialization in literacy.
“It’s symbiotic,” said Dr. Lisa Simon, associate professor in the School of Education and director of the literacy program. “The children and families benefit because they get the focused and consistent attention of a knowledgeable teacher, and the teachers benefit as well because they get to develop their skills in teaching literacy.”
Teachers work with small groups of students who range in age from five to 13. Some students, like in Maxwell’s case, stay in the program for several years.
“The first thing the teachers do is learn about their students’ interest and their feelings about reading and writing, ” said Professor Simon. “They then use that interest, say in sports or music, to develop that literacy skill.”
There is a focus on comprehension in reading and production of what Professor Simon calls “meaningful text” in writing. The work is project-based. Each semester culminates in a presentation of the students’ projects.
“Launching a Magazine” was the theme of this year’s presentation December 18 in CCNY’s North Academic Center Ballroom. There, family and friends of students, along with School of Education faculty celebrated the program’s Class of 2012 with the launch of a magazine designed by the students and containing their fall semester projects.
These include stories, poems, sketches, photos and drawings by the young program participants, as well as theatrical reenactments of some of the narrations in the magazine.
Like City College’s student population, the afterschool literacy program reflects a strong diversity both in the classroom and the teaching staff.
“We’re really committed to culturally responsive pedagogy,” said Professor Simon, whose scholarship centers on how literacy can be used to negotiate and challenge barriers to equitable learning opportunities.
Parents are an integral part of the CCNY literacy program and are encouraged to sit in on classes and participate in discussions and readings.
Olga Beltran, a Washington Heights mother, said the program has been so beneficial to her two older children that she’s spread the word around to other family and friends who’ve also signed up their children.
“My oldest son, Jeffrey, who’s now in ninth grade, was good in math but needed help with reading and comprehension. So I brought him here to the program and he’s much improved now,” said Beltran, who moved to New York from Mexico.
That encouraged her to enroll a second son, fifth-grader Brandon, into the program when he was five. Her youngest child, three-year-old Gabriela, is waiting to follow in her brothers’ footsteps to CCNY when she turns five.
The program is open to all children. Parents are welcome to apply by calling (212) 650-8872.
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Photo: Some young students in CCNY’s Afterschool Literacy Enrichment Program with Dr. Lisa Simon [left] its director.
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