Reaching parents and children where they live
by Mary U. Andrews
The idea for READ2ME: Tailgate Stories first entered my mind while vacationing in Mexico City in 1994. There I saw clusters of young children playing together while others were in school being educated. Though appearing content, I had a dread of what their lives might be without the gift of literacy. I wanted to sit in the grass with those children, read to them, converse about books. I even dreamed I would teach them to read – right there on the sidewalk. The fact that I couldn’t speak Spanish created a major obstacle, but I knew dreams took us beyond language. Somehow.
Fast forward to 2009 when I shared this memory with a friend of mine, Lois MacGillivray, a Catholic sister – extraordinary in her ability to listen intently and encourage good ideas. I told her I’d like to drive into a low-income neighborhood, open the tailgate of the car, pull out two chairs for any developing readers, spread out a blanket for children to sit on, and start reading aloud quality literature. And more I’d like to give each child a book to keep for his/her home collection every time he/she comes. I’d like to do this in the summer when children crave stimulation beyond television and video games.
READ2ME: Tailgate Stories started in one neighborhood in Carrboro, North Carolina, in 2009 and gradually expanded into 25 neighborhoods across the Chapel Hill Carrboro School System in 2013. The idea is simple. The implementation is simple. The impact is powerful. The benefits are many. They include:
- Maintaining the children’s interest in and accessibility to literature in the summer
- Increasing each child’s personal book collection
- Broadening the teachers’ experiences with diverse families by visiting children and parents on their home turf
- Creating a bridge between the school and low-income neighborhoods
- Identifying parent leaders in the neighborhoods
- Providing a welcoming setting for families (babies, siblings, cousins, parents), with books as the draw
- Developing rapport between teachers and children in a relaxed setting outside of the school
With the help of a friend, Nancy Zeman, a parent volunteer at my school with a dauntless “we can do it attitude,” I submitted a grant to the Chapel Hill Carrboro Public School Foundation to purchase books for the children. Once the request for books was funded, the rest was easy:
- Secure two chairs, a blanket, a bin of read-aloud books.
- Identify a low-income neighborhood within the school zone — then a tree or a spot in the parking lot to provide the setting for the program.
- Invite teachers and guests to help.
- Identify a week (preferably two) and the time (4:00-5:00 for CHCCS).
- Make a call via a phone tree (Connect-ed for CHCCS) alerting families that teachers and/or volunteers are coming to read and give away books.
- Knock on a few doors the first day. Children come on their own after the first visit.
And fun. Really fun. Gently-used books from Book Harvest (bookharvestnc.org) together with funds for new books from Chapel Hill Carrboro Public School Foundation provide enough books for this summer program to soar. Not surprisingly, teachers are very generous with their time, so the summer invitation is not an issue. A bonus to the program is having parents join us; they are invited to read books in their native tongue. The children are especially attentive when a mom in the neighborhood reads to them. When the babies come, it’s like winning the lottery! I make a point to have a collection of board books available for the littlest ones.
Teachers and volunteers to read are easy to recruit. Books are plentiful. Families come. The major obstacle is the weather. We often meet in extremely hot conditions, and, though I am tempted to cancel, the children show up! They love the books. They love the contact with teachers. Teachers, in turn, love the community building aspect of the program. They always appreciate the opportunity to share good literature with children too. READ2ME is a win-win project.
Taking time to be with neighbors, reading books together, talking about books, and having children choose their own books add to the quality of any summertime experience. We can’t measure the long-term impact of this program, but I am optimistic that READ2ME: Tailgate Stories supports our community efforts to close the academic gap. It certainly exposes teachers to the diversity in communities where their students live. It may even address the summer academic slump our children face. It clearly opens doors to positive relationships between families and teachers.
READ2ME: Tailgate Stories is a single step in mountainous terrain but I believe – – a simple step in the right direction.
Teacher Mary Andrews belongs to the Triangle Reading Council. READ2ME: Tailgate Stories is one of several led by Andrews that serve children and their families. She received the Random House National Teacher of Literacy Award in 2012 and NCRA’s James B. Hunt Celebrate Literacy Award in 2011.