COLUMBIA, MO. – The University of Missouri Association for Black Graduate and Professional Students (ABGPS) is promoting literacy and ethnic pride during the 2011 Black History Month through a new reading program. ABGPS members will kick off the initiative by reading to children in their classrooms while district teachers will read ethnic pride-themed books to their classes throughout February.
“We want to engage the community by promoting literacy to African-American children,” said Angela Gist, an MU graduate student and ABGPS volunteer. “We want to be present and help instill a sense of ethnic pride in a month where children are learning about their heritage. At their age, it is critical for children to see a face like theirs in a position they can aspire to. We want them to see that being an African-American scholar, or student of higher education, is a possibility. It makes it much for tangible for them to see that kind of person come into their school.”
Anthony James, ABGPS president and graduate student in the MU Department of Human Development and Family Studies, hopes this effort will result not only in an increased interest in reading among children, but an increase in their academic achievement as well.
“This program truly is scholarship in action,” James said. “We know from research that reading to children is directly related to their academic success. Reading at an early age helps children associate words with actual objects, increase attention span, and encourage cognitive growth by introducing new words to them that they can understand at an earlier age. Also, from a socio-emotional standpoint, when parents read to their children they build a secure bond with the child.”
James says the direct link between literacy and academic success can be found because children who have longer attention spans will be able to both hear and understand instructions from teachers and that children who have an expanded vocabulary will be able to more clearly articulate their feelings and frustrations. James believes this allows teachers to help children learn because the teacher will know what does and does not work for that child.
The program, which is supported by the MU Black History Month Committee, the MU Association for Black Graduate and Professional Students and Columbia Public Schools, will take place in six Columbia elementary schools during this year’s Black History Month. The Columbia Public School system has bought age-appropriate books for the classrooms of the children participating. The student volunteers will read these books to the children, and then the children will have continued access to copies of the book at the school library.
James hopes to expand similar programs throughout the state of Missouri and is in talks with University of Missouri faculty members about projects in St. Louis high schools. These programs will aim to connect and construct relationships between high school students and current MU students and to help them develop an interest in STEM fields, which include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. James is also discussing an expansion of the current reading program next year to more Columbia Public Schools.