This past year the Division of Mission and Ministry collaborated with the Seattle University Youth Initiative to launch a new program at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School. Participating staff members used the university's Community Service Leave Benefit to lead fifth grade students in reading circles (think book clubs). Following is a reflection by one of the participating group leaders, Megan Peter (pictured here, center).
When presented with the opportunity to lead a reading group for the fifth graders at Bailey Gatzert Elementary this past January I jumped at the chance. Not only would it be something fun to do, since reading is one of my favorite pastimes, but I was also going to be working with other people on campus that I might not have met if it were not for reading group.
It was a struggle at first, trying to gauge the each students' reading comprehension. I was fortunate enough that each group I led was up to par with the book they chose. It was also difficult at first to wrangle the kids each afternoon that we met. Trying to get the students to focus for even two minutes at a time was like trying to herd cats: nearly impossible. I quickly learned that planning at least one activity that got them moving or physically engaged was the quickest way to keep their attention. I also found that the activities that required them to color or draw also provided an opportunity for dialogue that led to better discussions than I could have planned.
Created by Seattle University in 2009, the Community Service Leave Benefit is an opportunity for staff to engage in community service during work hours. To learn more, visit Human Resources.
Through the reading groups, I was reminded that 11-year-olds are perceptive and knowledgeable about the world around them. On the surface, the first book I read The Liberation of Gabriel King was about a soon-to-be fifth grader who has a list of fears he decides to overcome. It takes place in the south in 1976 and deals with very strong themes of racism, violence and the Ku Klux Klan. There were times when the students surprised me with their knowledge of the Civil Rights movement and their sort of casual attitude of "Duh, racism is bad and the KKK is still a problem."
In leading a second reading group, I was again pleasantly surprised with not only the level of commitment they had to the book, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, but also their ability to retain important themes of the book. They also had some great insights into the lack of racial diversity in the book and the contextual clues that helped form those beliefs. I am also sure that my knowledge about the group One Direction and subsequent debate of whether or not they are considered a "boy band" helped me bond better with the students.
Overall, I am glad that I was able to spend an hour out of my week working with the students, even though at times it was difficult. In the end, I hope that they students were able to get as much out of the reading group as I was.
When she's not discussing literary works with the students of Bailey Gatzert, Megan Peter is registration representative in the Office of the Registrar. While a student at SU, she majored in journalism.