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Story Worth Telling

A Story Worth Telling

Posted: 12/06/2012

By Courtney Flynn

Roosevelt Review, Fall 2012 [ PDF ]

When Roosevelt’s Summer Reading Clinic began in 1987, it was designed to instill a love of reading in a small group of children who met in a one-room classroom at the former Forest View High School in Arlington Heights.

Over the last 25 years, the program’s modest beginnings grew to help about 900 students develop their reading skills, improve their social abilities, and in some cases, change the course of their lives.

“Every year I say this clinic can’t get any better, and it just does,” said founder Margaret Policastro, professor of education and director of language and literacy at the University. “It’s a joyful environment, and we want the children to leave with a love of reading.”

The program, which runs for five weeks each summer at the University’s Schaumburg Campus, is open to children in grades K-12, and is taught by graduate students pursuing their master’s degrees in reading.

Many of the Roosevelt students who worked in the clinic have become reading specialists in classrooms and schools throughout the Northwest suburbs and elsewhere.

“Those teachers took the best of the best to their classrooms,” said Policastro, who has trained more than 250 reading specialists during the summer programs. “It’s one of the ways Roosevelt University and the clinic have had an impact.”

About a third of the children who attend the clinic are there because they struggle with reading. Others come because their parents want them to be challenged. Some of the children’s reading levels rise a grade level, according to tests taken before and after the clinic, Policastro said, and all of the children leave with a better appreciation for reading.

Sara Duffy, 25, said before she began the clinic when she was a second-grade student, she never wanted to read in school. She had low reading abilities and avoided reading because of that, she said. Everything changed after her first summer with the program.

“I don’t think I would enjoy reading at all if I hadn’t been through that positive experience,” Duffy said. “Now, as an adult, I’m an avid reader. A big part of my summers is reading. Right now I’m in the middle of two books. There’s always a book with me.”

Duffy attended the clinic for six summers and went on to become a sixth-grade teacher. This fall, she is teaching eighth-grade science at Brookwood School Dist. 167 in Glenwood, Ill. She credits Policastro and the clinic as her career inspiration.

Policastro Quote

“I hope that kids who go through this program are inspired like I was and want to be readers for life,” Duffy said. “I think there are too few programs like this out there.”

For Temen Kading, 14, her time spent at the clinic was life changing in another way—she learned to speak English while visiting the University’s Schaumburg Campus each summer from the time before she entered kindergarten to the time before sixth grade.

“When we first adopted Temen from Bulgaria, she had no English skills at all,” said her father, Dave Kading, who studied at Roosevelt as an undergraduate student under Policastro. “About a month into the clinic, she was speaking comprehensive sentences. It was that fast. I really credit everything that went on in that classroom to bringing Temen along as quickly as it did.”

Not only did the clinic help build Temen’s reading skills, but it also helped her socialize and make new friends. “I was a little more confident,” she said. “It gave me something fun to do over the summer.”

Children who attend the clinic are exposed to numerous types of literacy experiences, including guided reading, having books read aloud to them and group discussions.

Roosevelt’s Summer Reading Clinic has become a model for other new non-traditional literacy and learning programs being tried throughout the region including: an initiative funded by the Illinois Board of Higher Education at Dumas Technology Academy and Enrico Fermi Elementary School, which are both located in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood, as well as nontraditional, team programs involving principals, teachers, parents and students in creating and enhancing reading environments at St. Luke Elementary School in River Forest and Our Lady of the Wayside School in Arlington Heights.

During one session of the clinic this summer, a group of eight children going into kindergarten and first grade gathered to learn from Sandy Goldberg, a Roosevelt undergraduate alum who taught the class as part of her master’s degree in reading from Roosevelt. Goldberg passed out cards with words on them related to a book they were reading, Dragon with a Cold, by Joy Cowley.

As many of the children recognized the words on their cards, Goldberg took the lesson a step further.

“What is an action word?” Goldberg said.

“Something you can do,” one child responded.

“Can you hold up an action word?” Goldberg asked the children.

One girl showed her card to Goldberg with the word “sneeze” on it.

“Absolutely! Sneeze is an action word!” Goldberg said enthusiastically.

She continued to ask the children to hold up action words in their hands before breaking the class into smaller groups where the children participated in various activities, such as Word Bingo and searching for action words on their own in a book.

“The children appreciate being read to, the sense of story and the excitement of books,” Goldberg said. “Some of the children came to the Summer Reading Clinic because they didn’t like reading. Now they love it. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.”

In another classroom down the hall, a group of students ranging in age from 9 to 13 were involved in a discussion about the book they were reading, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo. The book is about a china rabbit that falls overboard while vacationing on an ocean liner.

Teacher Sheena Ali had a big drawing of a rabbit taped to the chalkboard.

“Let’s write what he saw near his eyes, what he heard near his ears and what he felt near his heart,” Ali told her class. “How does he feel? Who has a good one for how he feels?”

One girl said, “Heartbroken.”

“Oh good one! Yes, heartbroken,” Ali said.

The children continued to pick descriptive words to pinpoint the rabbit’s experiences.

Margaret Policastro

“It’s almost like a book club,” said Policastro, who sat in to observe the class. “There are no wrong answers, it’s really just about getting the reader’s response.”

Throughout the day, three other classrooms filled with children of varying reading abilities participated in similar exercises. During a break, the students were able to gather in the courtyard to socialize with new friends and have a snack before moving on with their day.

Policastro, the teachers involved in the clinic, past students and their parents said they hope the program continues having a positive impact on children for many years to come.

“I truly believe it takes a village to help raise a child,” said Duffy’s mother, Georgianne Duffy. “I’m so glad Dr. Policastro and that reading program were in Sara’s village. It was life changing for her. It’s a wonderful program and I hope it never stops.”

Last updated 01/27/2016