Literacy underscores success in all aspects of life—and for those who can’t read at grade level, it can severely impact their chances of high school graduation. In fact, students who don’t read proficiently by 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. For those without proficiency by the end of 4th grade, two-thirds of them will end up in jail or go on welfare.
The University of Southern California’s Civic Engagement office is working hard to change these numbers. For the past four years, Executive Director of Educational Partnerships Kim Thomas-Barrios and her team have worked with young boys at schools in the USC area to improve their reading skills.
“We know that unfortunately for young males who don’t learn how to read with proficiency, they get left behind,” said Thomas-Barrios.
On Saturday mornings throughout the school year, 100 students come to campus for Kinder2College, a program designed specifically for boys who have been identified by their kindergarten teachers as in need of additional academic assistance in order to read with proficiency by 4th grade. Through learning that incorporates physical activity and research on how males learn best, Kinder2College works to promote literacy development.
Cesar, a second grader from 32nd Street Elementary School, has participated in this program since kindergarten. He looks forward to seeing his tutor JC every Saturday. “Kinder2College is the best place!” he said. “You get to learn everything. It’s better than school.”
The team doesn’t stop there—throughout the school year, they’re delving into research and working with teachers to share findings on active learning and implement new techniques in the classroom.
“Boys and girls learn differently… boys need to run around, they need to have the space and the freedom to learn,” said Sean Taitt, the Kinder2College program manager who earned his Master’s in Social Work from USC. Armed with that data, Kinder2College conducts teacher workshops and tutor trainings to encourage the accommodation of different learning styles in the classroom.
They also interface with students’ families to address issues they might be having at home, and reinforce their progress in school and at Kinder2College. “If parents, teachers and students are all on the same page, the kids will flourish,” said Taitt.
All of these efforts have proven fruitful for Cesar, his family and his fellow Kinder2College participants. “He’s always excited to go to Kinder2College,” said his mother. “He’s excited going in and coming out. It’s helped him a lot. He’s more confident, and he’s doing great.”
Now, Thomas-Barrios is adding an intergenerational component to the Kinder2College program. Beginning Fall 2017, they’ll bring in retired police officers, or “Legends,” to read and play with these young boys. “Legends will be able to share their experiences from their own lives with these young boys learning to read,” she said. “We’ll have a set of books designed just for boys, they’ll share the story, and the Legends will be trained on how to pull out inference in an inquiry-based manner. Then they’ll have lunch, and just bond.”
Earl Paysinger, the newly-named Vice President of Civic Engagement at USC, is a big proponent of this new addition. After more than 40 years in the Los Angeles Police Department, he retired in June and started 6 days later at USC. “Along the continuum of law enforcement you have education, intervention and prevention. On the opposite end you have arrest, booking, prosecution, incarceration, all the negative aspects,” he said. “We spend a lot more time doing the latter … which has never made sense to me.”
To recruit Legends, Paysinger will capitalize on the already-existing informal groups of police retirees that gather regularly. “So many retired LAPD officers, of which I am one, are very bonded to the community before they retire. One of the reasons they don’t want to leave is because they are so tied to their community.” This program aims to maintain that community connection.
Adding retired police officers to a program serving young boys who are largely minorities has an added benefit. At a time where many underserved and minority communities have a deep distrust of the police, Legends can be a positive example of law enforcement.
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