"There is no substitute for books in the life of a child"
"There is more treasure in books than
in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island" - Walt Disney
Back in the States I was a grade level coordinator of an organization
called Reading to Kids in my spare time. Once a month I would go to down town LA and read a book to a small group of 4th graders. The point was for them to hear a native speaker read so that they could catch on to the fluency. The thesis was that by simply reading to kids they would become better speakers of the language. After we would read the book would also work on some type of arts and crafts project, and the kids had so much fun with it. I loved volunteering for Reading to kids because I really felt that the kids enjoyed their time spent with us and I always went home with a smile on my face. I worked in Public Relations for almost 4 years, and I have to say it was the most unsatisfying career, I literally felt that I needed to volunteer just to balance out my life. I needed to feel that something I did was not just to make the fat cat richer, so working with Reading to Kids really began to balance out my life.
When I came to Armenia I knew that I would want to do a similar program here, I just didn’t know how. After a month of teaching I began to see that my 4th and 5th graders couldn’t really read in English that well and some of them couldn’t read at all. Worse yet, the other teachers explained to me that I shouldn’t be discouraged because they couldn’t even read in Russian. It made me sad not only because they should be reading by now, but also because it seemed that no one was ever really going to give them the opportunity to read.
So I began a reading to kidsesq club for the kids. We announced to the 4th and fifth graders that Thursdays after school if they wanted to, they could stay and Miss Alyssa would help teach them to read. I didn’t tell them that we would do crafts or that it would be fun. I wanted solely to see who would actually want to learn given the opportunity. When asked who was interested every single kid raised their hand, the good students and bad alike. Well I thought, we will see who will actually show up. I’ve heard dozen of stories of volunteers trying to get clubs going and having no one show up, so I wasn’t expecting much out of our first meeting.
When Thursday rolled around and the last bell rang I walked to my assigned club classroom and wasn’t too surprised to see only 3 children sitting in the room. Ok I thought, at least this will be easier. I had no idea how I was going to manage 20 little kids anyways. I looked at the older student who I had asked to volunteer to help me with the club, and was a bit embarrassed that I had told her I would need her help. I unpack the stuff for the class and begin to talk about the club, when my assistant looks at me, red in the face and clearly thinking about how she should say something to me. Finally she says, what about all the students in the other room? What I ask her, confused as the what room and who she is talking about. She goes into the next classroom over and comes back with pretty much every single one of my students. They all came to my club, minus one girl who they explained cried because her mother made her go to a Doctors appointment and she didn’t want to be the only one who missed the club.
The classroom was packed with students! I explained the rules of the club to them, and they sat through them silent. There was no other teacher in the room with me, and yet the kids were good. I explained to them that I really wanted them to learn to read and that I was going to teach them how to. I explained that I would read the book first and that they only needed to listen. Then I would pass the one book we had around and they would take turns reading. I introduced a few word families to them with an awesome visual aid that I had spent hours making the night before. Basically it was the word family written on paper and post it’s with different first letters that I just peeled off so that they saw how word families rhyme. I had them read the word families and each one of them was able to do it. I explained to them how important it is to sound words out, and that in my class they would have all the time they need to sound out letters and work through each word. Often times in Armenian classes when a student is reading the teacher doesn’t give them any time to work through words, they just shout the words at them.
After reading we began to work on a craft that I had made up the night before. I bought paper plates and colored paper and had the students make a fishbowl, since the book we read was about the aquarium. They loved it! They took their project so seriously! As they were working I walked around to help the younger ones make their cut outs, and as I did this I noticed that there were people standing outside the door. I wondered who they were so I walked over and opened the door. Some of the children’s parents were standing outside the door with some other teachers in the class. They asked if they could come in and look, so I allowed them too. They have never had their kids be invited to be in a club, one mother explained to me, so she had to come and see what was going on. Another explained to me that her little girl won’t stop talking about her English class and Miss Alyssa the American so she was wondering what the classes was like. The head of the teachers walked up to me and grabbed my arm, Thank God for sending you she told me. I laughed feeling uncomfortable, I hadn’t really done much I explained to her. You are creating for these kids something they have never known she told me, you are giving them hope that things can be different and you are doing it with a smile always on your face. You make us teachers want to be like you and this school will be better because of you she told me in English. I smiled at her, looked around at my students and the curious parents and younger siblings who had all gathered into that classroom and knew in a way that this was exactly what I was meant to be doing. Now if I can only get enough English books sent to me that I could keep this club up, I will be so happy!!!