My name is Ayla Linder and I’m serving at C.E. Rose PreK-8 School in Tucson, Arizona as the Community Engagement Specialist. I have been serving as a State member since January, and my experience so far has been very fulfilling. I have been looking for the perfect community position since finishing my contract with the Air Force in 2018, and feel that the sense of community involvement and teamwork that was encouraged within the military mirrors my experience within AmeriCorps. The ability to serve at a school that is like many public schools in Arizona, understaffed and underfunded, has been eye opening. When I was introduced at the staff meeting, a 3rd grade teacher approached me and told me that her incoming 3rd graders cannot read! She explained that not only can they not read, but the few that can read do not understand what they are actually reading. With this being a common theme here at C.E. Rose, I was then asked to put together some fun events for the school for Love of Reading month in February.
In the past, guest readers had always been the highlight of Love of Reading month, but I wanted to reach the students who DO NOT have a love of reading! I set out to gather donations from area bookstores and local businesses. I was able to acquire magnetic bookmarks and notebooks from Barnes & Noble, a $15 gift certificate from Antigone Books (local bookstore on 4th Ave.) comic books & $25 gift certificate from Charlie’s Comics, as well as over 400 picture, easy reader and chapter books from Friends of Pima County Library. Using these donated items, I put together 4 book walks during lunch recess, played fun children’s music, and gave away the books, notebooks and bookmarks. During the month, we had a contest for each class to decorate their classroom door as a book theme, and the Optimist Club awarded 1st and 2nd place with pizza and Eegee parties, and for the 3rd place prize, I awarded them the $15 gift certificate to Antigone Books. The 8th grade class was having a comic strip activity and I awarded their classroom with the comics and gift certificate to the comic book store for whomever won the best comic strip within the class.
For the students who didn’t care to bring books home or participate in book themed events, I invited University of Arizona Financial Literacy department to put on Smart Savings/How to Invest workshops during their lunch hour. My target audience were the 7th and 8th graders who usually skip lunch and hang out in the cafeteria waiting for the bell to ring. The workshops were successful and we were able to attract 3 different sets of about 5-6 students at each workshop. They learned the importance of networking, how small change can add up quickly over time as well as how the skills they are learning now (such as reading and writing) can lead to a career after High School. The students responded well and were interested in learning how they could get into a specific High School that offers specific classes within school as well as in the community that relate to their career goals or interests.
Along with all of the fun events over the course of the month, we also invited parents, AmeriCorps members, partner organization members as well as many other local business professionals to visit the classrooms and read a book or a few chapters to the students. At the end of the month, I had about 20-30 books left so our librarian assistant’s father donated a small bookshelf to the school so that I could assemble a free library in the entryway, which has proven to be very popular with the students who have to wait after school for their parents to pick them up! My goal was to spread the love of reading to each and every student, and hopefully replace some screens with books by introducing books that interest those students who never had an interest in reading previously. The look on the student’s faces was priceless when they found out the books that I gave to them were theirs to take home forever! The fact that some of the students were never given a book before in their life really touched my heart and made the entire month’s activities well worth it!