The initiative is part of Elon's Center for Access and Success and pairs tutors with students in all levels of elementary and secondary school to help them succeed in school.
They flooded the children’s section of the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Burlington on Wednesday night, picking up copies of Fancy Nancy, tales featuring the Frozen sisters and books about superheros (including Captain Underpants). Dragging their parents by the hand, these young readers were on a shopping spree thanks to Elon’s It Takes a Village project, with the goal of helping fill the shelves in their homes with books.
These were the youngest of the nearly 400 students — those preparing for kindergarten to those now in high school — who during the course of the evening had the opportunity to build their home libraries thanks to their participation in the It Takes a Village project. The Elon University initiative within the Center for Access and Success pairs Elon students with Alamance county children and their parents to help the young students succeed in school.
A key focus is on supporting reading skills, with older students also finding support as they learn mathematics and leadership skills, and the twice-annual book buy helps sustain what they have learned during the school year through winter break and the gap between the end of the school year and the start of the summer session of It Takes a Village.
“The idea is to encourage the child to continue reading even when they’re not with us,” said Jean Rattigan-Rohr, director of the Center for Access and Success and executive director of community partnerships. “We want them to build their home library.”
Wednesday night also provided the opportunity for several students in 5th through 7th grades to build their public speaking skills while showing off what they had learned about essay writing during the past several months. This spring, students in the English 110 course taught by Heather Lindenman, assistant professor of English, worked with these middle-grade students on crafting an essay around the theme, “This I Believe.”
One of those students, seventh-grader Camila Morales, stood before the crowd gathered in the front of the Barnes & Noble to read her essay, “Carving Paths to a Better Future.”
“What I believe in most is making a difference,” Morales said, reading from her essay about how to the impact of stereotypes on her and her family, and how to overcome those challenges.
Morales worked with Elon first-year student Shawna’ Harris-Lenoir on writing the essay, which Lindenman said offered Lenoir-Harris the opportunity to enhance her own writing skills while helping a younger writer develop her own. A goal for the class is “writing to change the world,” which Lindenman said broadens the experience Elon students have with writing by offering them the opportunity to learn to write in different ways by helping a younger student with their own work.
“That objective is unique to Elon,” Lindenman said.
Before the middle-grade students took center stage on Wednesday, the younger students were moving through the book stacks to find the right additions to their own libraries. Josiah Johnson, a 9-year-old third-grader at Grove Park Elementary, read through a superhero book with the help of his father, Joe, while Josiah’s tutor looked on.
The It Takes a Village is designed around the idea that Elon students, faculty and staff work with not just children in the community, but parents as well to help them assist their own children with learning.
”We’re trying to help him become more fluent with his reading,” said Joe Johnson, saying that he’s been working with his son on vowel sounds. “I enjoy reading with him at home — that’s part of the partnership.”
Josiah settled on a “Team Batman” book to add to his stack. Each child had a budget of about $60 to spend in the store, with the funding for the big book buy provided in large part by a $1 million grant from the Oak Foundation that was awarded to the project last June.
Around the corner, 6-year-old Prakiya from Newlin Elementary School had assembled a stack of Barbie, Frozen and Fancy Nancy books to add to her library. Her tutor, Stephanie Ntim ’19, said she has been a joy to work with her, and see the progress that she is making with the support of her family.
“It’s been fun to get to know her and see her progress,” Ntim said. “She’s getting so much more comfortable reading. She likes to read, and this offers her the chance to have more books to dive into.”