Literacy Corps volunteers see benefits as well
For Nicole Tarver, a senior photojournalism and history major, the SU Literacy Corps gives her an opportunity to do what she loves most-spend time with children.
“Before coming to SU, I always spent time with kids,” says Tarver, who has been a member of the SU Literacy Corps since her sophomore year. “The kids are just awesome and offer me a welcome change of pace. After spending all day on campus going to classes and interacting with adults, I look forward to going to places like the Dunbar Center and working with the kids. It’s fun.”
The SU Literacy Corps operates year-round under the auspices of the Center for Public and Community Service. During the fall and spring semesters, about 140 Literacy Corps students work 10 to 12 hours a week tutoring children in area schools and community organizations. Summer Literacy Corps students work 37-1/2 hours for about six weeks. They receive two days of intensive orientation to prepare them to work with children and a series of professional development seminars to help them hone their skills.
The seminars are conducted by Paula Ilacqua-Morales, staff development facilitator for the Syracuse City School District’s Inclusive Summer School Program. During the seminars, students learn literacy strategies; how to enable children with special needs; and how to understand a child’s developmental level and learning style, and design a hands-on, interactive teaching environment around the child’s abilities.
This is the first time that Tarver has participated in the Summer Literacy Corps program, where she is working in an inclusive classroom for children ages four through six at Bellevue Elementary School. She says the summer program presents different challenges than the after-school program she worked with during the academic year.
“This is the first time I’ve worked in an inclusive classroom,” Tarver says. “It’s really cool to see the interaction between the ‘typical’ kids and the ‘special needs’ kids. Working with all of the children is great, but it is especially gratifying to work with the kids who are unsure of themselves.”
Although it was only the fourth day in the classroom, Tarver had already forged deep bonds with some of the children. Nicole Plumey and Tarver have been almost inseparable since the first day of class. “We both have the same name,” Tarver says, “there is an automatic bond there.”
This summer, the children are learning about the universe-the planets, stars, moons, and sun. One child had never drawn a star. Afraid of failing, he was reluctant to even try, Tarver says. “I told him we would do it together. Then he drew the star. It was a beautiful star and he was so proud of himself.”
Another child was having difficulty opening a wrapper during lunch. Rather than do it for the child, Tarver says she offered to open the wrapper with the child. “All they need is a little encouragement, and then they get so excited when they realize they can succeed at a task.”
Tarver’s role in the classroom includes working with small groups of children during “center time” and “reading time,” where she either reads to them or helps them develop literacy skills. Sometimes that involves helping them to identify shapes, teaching them to listen closely to directions or helping them to describe something by drawing pictures and writing simple words.
“The Literacy Corps students understand our program and what we are trying to do with the children,” Ilacqua-Morales says. “They are respectful of our children and provide wonderful role models for the children. It’s nice to see young people come into our schools with a real desire to help children get excited about books. That in itself is a very powerful message.”