Literacy Program Ignites Children's Excitement About Books


Literacy is more than being able to sound out words on a page. Elizabeth Davis says literacy means reading, writing, thinking critically and even getting excited about the world of books. That's why Davis, children's outreach coordinator for the Lackawanna County Library System, teamed up with a group of University of Scranton education majors to create a literacy enrichment program at the Children's Library in Scranton.

The free after-school enrichment program is for students who are 6 to 10 years old. The kids can come from public school, private school or even be home-schooled. They meet every Wednesday from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. to read, learn, think and get creative.

The Children's Library program is fashioned after Philadelphia's “Literacy Enrichment After-school Program (LEAP),” which provides homework assistance, computer literacy and library skills for students in grades one through 12.

“I learned about the LEAP program at a conference,” Davis said. “And I thought, 'We could do something like that here.' Fortunately, there was a group of University students who were already library volunteers. I asked them if they could help fashion a weekly program that modified LEAP for our needs.”

University of Scranton junior, Meghan Fennessy is an education major and also vice president of the Student Education Club of the University of Scranton (SECUS). She was among the team of Scranton students who helped develop the Children's Library program. Melissa Nassaney, vice president of Scranton's ACEI club (Association for Childhood Education International) and Christine Wolff, treasurer of ACEI, also plan and deliver the program. In addition to her natural desire to teach children, she cited the University's emphasis on service as the reason she and her classmates volunteer so much time to the library.

Fennessy said that a typical one-hour session at the Children's Library includes reading a story, leading discussion of the subject matter and then planning activities meant to enhance both reading comprehension and critical thinking. “For example,” she said, “around Presidents Day our activity was to reflect and write about 'what I would do if I were President.'” For Martin Luther King Day, the students looked at murals painted in Philadelphia and then brainstormed and created their own murals representative of their communities.

Fennessy said one of the program's greatest strengths is its ongoing nature. “It's not 'one and done,'” she said. The University students are at the Children's Library once a week every week and that continuity allows the children to maintain and build upon the skills acquired as the weeks pass. Fennessy said that she and her fellow junior-class volunteers would like to see the program become a permanent University of Scranton service project.

Fennessy said one of the biggest challenges she and her classmates face is making the discussions and activities appealing to such a wide age range. So far, the children's feedback indicates the University students are succeeding admirably.

The library's Davis said she is pleased with the resulting program. “It's going really well. The kids come running in every week. You can see they are excited.” It's that excitement, she said, that sparks imagination, creativity and thinking ... the very heart of literacy.

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