The Course of Reason

Reading Aloud in DC

December 5, 2012

The GW Secular Society has a mission of advancing education and reason, especially in schools. It seems ironic to have this mission when we live in the heart of the worst public school district in America. Perhaps it is going beyond our mission, but I do not see why we can't do more to fix the problems in DC schools. People should be doing more, and this experience was proof of that. These were great kids, and they loved the stories they read. They should be able to enjoy stories like this whenever they want to on their own time with their own reading skills.

Early Monday morning (December 3, 2012), President Julie, VP Monica, Outreach Coordinator Magdalena, and active members Bill Lewis and Marcelo Mata woke up at the crack of dawn to trek to Adams Morgan, two large bags of Barnes & Noble books - and some coffee - in hand.

Upon arriving, we met with Ashley Sumpter, a soft-spoken Volunteer Specialist at the Marie Reed Pediatric Center. The lobby was notably only filled with African-American or Hispanic patients. Ms. Sumpter explained that the Marie Reed Pediatric Center is owned by the Community Of Hope non-profit organization. Community of Hope centers provide services to homeless and low-income individuals and families, including transitional housing, social services, family education and health care. They are, in my opinion, the epitome of what this country should focus their attention on. If you ever want to get involved with a charity organization, my vote is in for this group.

Since it was so early on a Monday morning, there were not that many people there, so Bill, Marcelo, and Magdalena were asked to help hand out patient feedback surveys while Monica and I read to the few children that were there. We essentially sat in the lobby and asked children, as they came in, if they would like to be read to. We let them look through the extensive pile of about thirty books that we had and let them choose. If there were infants, we picked large, illustrative books that they could marvel at rather than read. Marcelo was working with the one Spanish-speaking family that came in asking for all of our Spanish books, which we gladly donated to them.

I think I can speak for Monica when I say there was one pair of siblings that struck a chord with us. It was a ten-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl. When I asked the girl how old she was, I made the arrogant, presumptuous mistake of assuming that she could read after she told me she was eight, as I knew that I was reading when I was five or six years old. I handed her an American Girl book, which is a series of books about young girls living in various periods of American history. She skimmed through it, not seeming too impressed, and she put the book back. I then asked her if she lost power during Hurricane Sandy. She said yes, so I handed her a Magic School Bus book about hurricanes. She looked through it, saying she liked Ms. Frizzle.

Ms. Sumpter, who was sitting nearby, was wiser than I was. She mouthed to me to ask her to read it aloud. So I did. The girl stared at the words, opening her mouth as if wanting to figure out the first letter sound of the word "class", but nothing seemed to come out. I spoke the word for her, but eager to do it herself, she hid the book pages from me and gave me a devious, but nervous, grin. I told her, "Alright! You got this, girl! What's the next word?" She looked back at the page, and still said nothing. It was at this point that I realized that she actually couldn't read, and I was filled with sadness. I had forgotten the fact that DC schools are quite literally the worst in the country.

I was filled with a whole new purpose. I gently took the Magic School Bus book from her and handed her one of my childhood favorites, "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" instead. She opened it and smiled at the bright colored letters on the first page.

During all of this, her ten-year-old brother had been sitting alone and away from us with an illustrative "Jack and the Beanstalk" book. After looking through the pictures, he brought that book back, then grabbed the novel "War Horse". After realizing there were no pictures, he closed it, and simply sat in his waiting room seat alone.

However, once he heard me begin reading "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" aloud to his little sister, who was enthusiastically reading the letters out loud once the text came to them, the brother made his way over. He joined in his sister's enthusiasm of reading the letters out loud and recognizing the rhythm and rhyme.

monica of gwss
GWSS Vice President, Monica Perez, makes a goofy face as she holds the book "Goodnight, Gorilla".

Monica picked up on this and grabbed Dr. Seuss's "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" and asked him to start reading that one. He did and began reading what he could. When he came over a word that he did not quite know, he simply mumbled the sounds then continued as if he had read it correctly. Monica did her best to go back and help him correct the words that he clearly did not know. Once he began understanding the book better, he would exclaim, "Damn! That's a crazy animal!" or something of the sort. But overall, he told us how much he liked this book for its rhythm and rhymes.

Once the girl and I were finished with "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom", I selected the book "Goodnight, Gorilla", which only has the words "Goodnight, (Animal)" throughout the whole book, but creates its own narration with its colorful pictures. I knew the girl would enjoy this, as she would happily tell me what the pictures were showing in the last book, and thought she would have fun using the same creative spirit with this open-ended book. I was correct.

When their mother came back from where she had been speaking with someone, she called her kids to leave, and briskly went towards the doors without acknowledging their reading. Before they could follow after her, I called the boy back and handed him "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish", which he happily took as he went on his way.

It was hard not to believe that Monica and I started at least some sort of spark in the minds of these sweet children. We desperately hope so, at least. They wanted to go through many of the books, but simply did not have time. They were excited to have someone read along with them. It was truly inspiring for us. Unfortunately, we will never know for sure if we ever did make a difference in these children's lives or not.

I, personally, am very excited to do this again next Wednesday, and hopefully many times after. 

To get involved yourself, you can use this interactive map tool to find a children's hospital near you that either needs books, readers, or both!

 

About the Author: Julie Mankowski

Julie Mankowski's photo
Julie Mankowski is the president and founder of the George Washington University Secular Society.

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