2016-04-29

When the book fair came to Hopkins Lloyd, a lot of the sixth-grade kids quickly ran to the comic book section to find their favorite cartoon characters and superheroes plastered across flashy bright covers. Left alone was a book many team members grew up reading, Harry Potter.

Fellow City Year AmeriCorps member, Abby and I noticed a few students in particular who were much higher-level readers than the comic books they were looking through so we approached the students about reading more challenging books. The students (somewhat reluctantly) accepted Harry Potter and took them home. We told our kids if they read the first book, we would buy them the sequel as a reward.

When we arrived the following day, Abby and I were shocked to find that one of the students had read 155 pages overnight and our jaws hit the floor when another student said he finished the book completely.

It was remarkable to see the impact we could have by simply suggesting a book to one of our kids.

When one of the students received the second as promised, she was ecstatic. She was smiling from ear-to-ear and repeating "thank you" more times than I could count. Less than a week later, she finished the second one and even wrote a book summary as part of City Year's reading initiative.

She was just as elated to receive the third book as she was for the second. Rather than waiting for her to finish a book then bring the next in the series a few weeks later, I decided I'd simply give her my whole Harry Potter collection. For a series I love so dearly I always imagined I'd save those books for kids of my own one day. The more I thought about it, the more I thought leaving them on a dusty shelf for another 20 years or so just wasn't feasible and, at the end of the day, these are my kids now.

They say if you love something, set it free. So that's exactly what I did. Making my student cry over receiving books was one of the most rewarding experiences so far from my time in City Year.

More students have begun to catch the reading bug in the sixth-grade. I helped another student to get the first Hunger Games book and successfully convinced another student to begin reading a daunting 400-page book on superheroes instead of a comic book on the same topic. I see a good number of my kids reading in their free time now, where before they would talk to their neighbor or cause disruptions in the class. When a trusted adult can suggest a book related to their interests, the impact grows exponentially. I look forward to seeing what my students will read about in our last few months together.

By: City Year AmeriCorps Member Cullen Voss serving on the M&I Foundation Team at Hopkins Lloyd Community School

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