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High School Youth Become Literacy Mentors for Children – Passing on a Love for Reading

By Danielle Joseph, Girls and Youth Academic Specialist
February 8, 2019
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This year at YWCA Midtown, we began a new program where high school youth tutor preschool through third graders in literacy. High schoolers get the chance to become mentors and coaches, and the children they tutor get special attention to expand their reading skills.

A Place to Foster a Love for Reading Every Week

Once a week the kids meet their mentors at YWCA for a two-hour program. They spend the first 30 minutes eating snack and working on homework or doing a group reading with the teacher and then transition to “literacy stations.”

Activity Stations Focusing on Different Skills

Tutors are stationed at three different tables around the room, where they run activities on reading and comprehension, writing, sight words and vocabulary. The tutors stay at their station while the students rotate every 20 minutes, giving them time to work on each skill throughout the hour. At each station, students participate in literacy games and activities, such as fishing for sight words, competing in a mini spelling bee or forming letters of the alphabet with Play-Doh.

Stories about Inclusion, Equity and Empathy

When selecting books to read we look to primarily choose books that talk about inclusion, equity and empathy. They have read “The Youngest Marcher,” about Audrey Faye Hendricks who participated in the Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama to reverse segregation laws. They have read stories on Cesar Chavez, Malcolm X and the importance of books in revolution and fighting for liberty.

My Princess Boy: Will You Play with Him?

One their favorite books, one which they have asked Danielle to read over and over again, is “My Princess Boy” by Cheryl Kilodavis, a book about a boy who loves to dress up in girls clothes and declares himself a “princess boy.”

The end of the book reads, “If you see a Princess Boy… Will you laugh at him? Will you call him a name? Will you play with him? Will you like him for who he is?” and the students, some of whom had started the group saying it is “nasty” or “weird” for boys to wear pink, enthusiastically shout that they would not laugh at him or call him names, instead listing all the things they would do to make him feel accepted. After we closed the book, one of the second graders exclaimed, “and also… and also… we would loveeeee him.”

By exposing the youth to many different stories, and exploring many aspects of identity, we hope to help the youth realize that difference is not only okay but is something to be celebrated and proudly expressed.


A Sign of Success: Borrowing Books to Read at Home

The overall the group has been successful in getting the youth to embrace a growth mindset and be excited to learn and read. She has noticed that the youth have begun asking to read during their free time and borrowing books to finish at home.

The high school tutors seem to be benefiting from the group as well. They have gained many leadership skills and some have even begun to help with creating fun and interactive games and activities to help the children learn.