Boys and Girls Club: Then and Wow!

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When did I get so old? Not really. I guess what I mean by that is, when did I become the big one holding the book while someone else muscled through the pages, one new word at a time? I am currently working at the Boys and Girls Club of Champaign, IL. I’ve never worked with “children” in this manner before. I’ve worked with children but just not like this. It has opened my eyes and has in a way presented me with a clearer understanding of where I’ve come from.

My earliest memories of literacy occurred in Glenwood, IL. The library existed as a point of ceasefire for many of us within the community. At the library, I could escape my latchkey realities and pretend I was a princess or a pirate or a President, thanks to the many literacy programs. Those volunteers probably went home everyday not thinking much of their contributions. They had no idea how inspirational they were to us, especially me. Years later, now I am that “adult”.

I love being the big one holding the book and providing additional context for the reader. For example, “Hey, you know that the character Franny K. Stein is a node to the book Frankenstein and her teacher Miss Shelly is a node to the author Mary Shelly”. (It was pretty great seeing her [the reader’s] light up at that revelation). And though the reading levels vary widely, the experiences each offer me a different and interesting teaching opportunity. I’ve learned to adapt to different personalities, capabilities, and interests. I know that “Tony” loves ninja and gross out animal books while “Kendra” is all about comic book structures and school drama and though “Roy” probably could attempt a more difficult story he just loves going back to his old favorites.

Another joy is “leveling” the youth, or figuring out what book is the correct and customized difficulty range for each and every person. This was something I was hesitant about earlier on while there. When I was a young reader, I like “challenging books”. I like feeling like a grown up and that I could read “big kid stuff”. At the Boys and Girls Club we use a sort of restructured Lexile scheme that monitors what level the kid is reading at currently and that considers the context in whether or not a youth is ready to comprehend the content. It’s a really good idea. All kids aren’t like me. Some can be intimated by “big words” and that makes them not want to read at all or some look as though they are at a higher level, because they are “reading a popular, advanced chapter book” but really they are just looking at the pictures, which doesn’t necessarily ensure that they are mastering the language.

So no, I’m “not old”. I am seasoned and so thrilled to be able to pay it forward. Maybe in about 10 -20 years many of these kids will become the one’s holding the book while a smaller version of them learns to read- one new word at a time. PS: You’re only as old as you feel.

-Jhani Miller

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