August 24, 2023

Literacy Transforms Lives

At Friends of the Children-Chicago, we are obsessed with literacy. We know that being able to read and write is one of the most powerful protective factors a child can have. Our professional mentors have always incorporated literacy into their 1:1 time with youth. But it’s not enough.

Most of the children in our program entered kindergarten without reading readiness skills. This, combined with the lack of consistent instruction during the pandemic, and the fact that they are struggling with trauma, means that many of our youth are reading well below grade level.

What we do now to support their literacy skills will impact the trajectory of their lives.

That is why I am thrilled to introduce you to our newest team member, Education Specialist Michelle King.

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Michelle’s life experiences have shown her the transformative power of literacy. Her grandma taught her how to read from a very young age and instilled in her a love of books. She entered her kindergarten class as the only child who knew how to read. Instead of encouraging her to reach her fullest potential, her teacher relied on Michelle to help teach others how to read. It wasn’t until college that Michelle had a teacher that awoke her passion for literacy.

Michelle’s life work has been to ignite a love of literacy in children earlier in their life. She believes that every child deserves the magical experience of coming into a safe space, selecting a book, and escaping into another world.

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Michelle has been a Chicago Public Schools educator for the past 30 years and over those years she has developed and honed an effective trauma-informed literacy curriculum. This summer Michelle piloted our first ever Summer of Success (SOS) Reading Program with a cohort of 14 of our most at-risk readers.

The program centered around building confidence and independence, and the power of a growth mindset. Among the activities was dedicated solo reading time where each child was able to read at their level with dignity.

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One day during this independent reading time, Michelle noticed that 5th grader Ysabelle* was using context clues to guess the words on the page rather than actually reading them. She showed Ysabelle how to sound out all the words on the page. Instantly, Ysabelle lit up and Michelle saw in her that magical sparkle that a child gets in their eye when they finally understand something.

Ysabelle sounded out a complete sentence and then ran out of the room screaming excitedly, “I can read, I can read!”.

This is the power of literacy. These are the moments that change lives.

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