Kids read about, reflect on courage as part of new literacy pilot program

Thursday, May 1, 2014 4:10:00 PM

In early May, 600 Milwaukee-area Pre-K-12 students are engaging in a reading pilot program – Courage to Read – coordinated by Cardinal Stritch University’s Language and Literacy Department and focused on a common theme: courage.

Modeled after The Big Read program by the National Endowment of the Arts which focuses on a common reading book for adults in communities across the nation, the Courage to Read brings this concept to local schools. The common theme provides a link among the age-appropriate book choices selected by the planning committee, which includes Stritch Language and Literacy Department faculty and staff members Dr. Linda Gordy, Dr. Molly Shiffler, Katie Fisher, Eileen Balagna, Dr. Aaliyah Baker, Kathleen McKeown, Kathie O’Dell, Dr. Janice Strop, and Dr. Anna Varley with library operations manager/curator Laurie Swartwout and Stritch Trustee and civic leader Dr. Mary Kellner, ’07.

“The overall goal is to enhance literacy by improving vocabulary, promoting discussion around comprehension of the books, and challenging children to use creative and critical thinking skills,” said Kellner, who originally came up with the idea and approached faculty members at Stritch to explore its potential. In addition to serving on the committee, Kellner also purchased all the books for the program so schools did not incur any expense to participate.

Teachers who are leading their students through Courage to Read will receive a packet of writing activities and reading strategies created by Stritch faculty members and literacy experts. Each class of students also is connected with a participating class from another school, offering opportunities for correspondence and connections to the bigger program.

“So if I’m a second-grade teacher, I am partnered up so it allows my kids to correspond with others about the book,” said Dr. Linda Gordy, associate dean of the School of Urban Initiatives. “They may do a bit of blogging and, even for younger kids, letter writing to each other so they can see that this is bigger than just their classroom, that people are reading these books at the same time.”

The majority of teachers participating in the project are current students at Stritch.

To introduce children to the concept of courage, the committee carefully selected books that introduce people or situations that require courage.

“The books may focus on people who have historically done things they didn’t think they could do and then they showed great courage at a key moment,” Gordy said. “But we also wanted to have stories focused on people living today so kids don’t just see courage as something that happened in the past. It’s something that happens every day and you, too, can show courage.”

Following the conclusion of the experience, the committee will use the feedback from participating teachers to plan a more extensive experience for next year. 

Book selections for the Courage to Read include:

“Peep! A Little Book About Taking a Leap” by Maria van Lieshout
“The Little Yellow Leaf” by Carin Berger

Kindergarten-Grade 1
“Wallace’s Lists” by Barbara Bottner
“Courage” by Bernard Waber

Grades 2-3
“No Bad News” by Kenneth Cole
“Each Kindness” by Jacqueline Woodson

Grades 4-5
“Planting the Trees of Kenya” by Claire Nivola
“The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq” by Jeanette Winter
“What was the Underground Railroad?” by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Grades 6-7
“Breadwinner” by Deborah Ellis
“Locomotion” by Jacqueline Woodson
“Color of my Words” by Lynn Joseph

Grade 8
“Divergent” by Veronica Roth
“The Boy Who Dared” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Young Adult Text Set
“The Living” by Matt de la Peña
“The Warrior’s Heart: Becoming a Man of Compassion and Courage” by Eric Greitens
“We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March” by Cynthia Levinson

“I’m very proud of Stritch for taking this on,” said Kellner, adding that, if well received, the program could expand to other schools next year, adding technology, other components, and partnering agencies to further enrich the experience for participants.