Reading aloud is part of the ABC Boosters program.RoundTable photo

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With just days until their first day of kindergarten, boys and girls in summer programs at Fleetwood-Jourdain and Robert Crown community centers received an extra treat: an entrée into literature through the ABC Boosters program, a joint effort of the Youth Job Center and the Evanston Public Library funded by the Evanston Community Foundation. Teens from the Youth Job Center worked in small groups or one-on-one in pullout sessions with the soon-to-be kindergarteners, teaching them to recognize the letters of the alphabet. “We want to get the kids to know as many letters as they can and be excited about seeing and reading a book, said Laura Galicia, one of the lead co-instructors of ABC Boosters.

Ms. Galicia, who teaches first grade at Willard School, and Maria Torres, who was transferred to Dawes School from Willard, designed the curriculum so the teens could deliver it to the youngsters. Ms. Torres said, “I’m hoping to see a more even playing field, because right now kids come in at very different levels.”

At lunchtime, the teens read aloud not only to the summer-program kids but to adults who dropped in at Fleetwood for the lunch program. “At least 50 kids have a book read to them twice a week,” said Ms. Galicia.

The RoundTable spoke with four of the teens in the program: Jahna Grey, Niky Washington, Jessica Handy and Nathaniel Mitchell. Each had discovered that individualization is important. “All the kids are different. Some were taught the alphabet already and some were trying to [learn],” said Nathaniel. “All kids learn on different levels,” said Jessica. “Some are visual learners,” said Niky. “We learned how to be patient,” said Jahna. None, however, said “yes” to a question of whether they wanted to become teachers.

On Aug. 16, as the program was winding down, Ms. Galicia told the RoundTable she felt it was successful. “We did a pre-test and a post-test on the alphabet. So far 90 percent of the kids showed progress in letters and in knowing their names.” Children’s Librarian Rick Kinnebrew said, “I attribute a lot of the success of the project to the teens chosen by the Youth Job Center – another example of the right player being on the project.  Everybody brings their expertise. The Evanston Community Foundation’s commitment to early childhood literacy made this pilot program possible, and I hope that it takes off.”

Ms. Galicia said, “After 16 years of teaching kindergarten, I know the teachers will be excited when the kids come to school and already know their letters.”