Bookworms to Butterflies
By Haley Tilt
Most people have heard about the Boy Scout Eagle, the highest award with which a scout can be honored. Far fewer are aware of the Gold Award, the Eagle’s equivalent in Girl Scouting. Both require a major community service project that will push the scout in their organizational, networking, and leadership skills.
My name is Haley. I joined the Girl Scouts in second grade, and despite a lot of well-humored teasing from my friends, I’ve remained in the organization for almost eleven years. As I’m wrapping up my Gold Award project, I can’t help but realize how much impact it has had on my life.
As I was searching for a project idea that would fit my skills and interests, I came across a study conducted by educational specialist Richard L. Allington, whose research focused on the “summer reading setback”, a term which describes the reading level gap that develops between low-income students (who have limited access to books over the summer) and their more-advantaged peers. I quickly settled on a project to promote early childhood literacy. I wanted to work in a Title 1 school, so in late December I connected with Barnes Elementary School and the SHINE program, which organizes a summer camp for Barnes’ students that are recognized through Oreegon Assesment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) testing as being struggling readers.
My project model was simple enough: I would supply 30 students with at least 15 high-quality, grade-level, self-selected books, and match them with a mentor who could model positive reading strategies.
In accordance with Allington’s research, my primary focus was getting books into children’s hands—studies suggest that children who read as few as six books over the summer retain the reading level they possessed in the school year prior. I organized book drives in my church, throughout the community, and within my high school, in cooperation with a team of International Baccalaureate Diploma students. I recruited teachers, graduate students, and advanced high school students to read one-on-one for an hour with second and third grade students who were selected for the SHINE program (my class, “Bookworms to Butterflies,” was an element of that program).
The reading program appealed to me because it was so close to home; I didn’t want to be an outsider imposing my “assistance” on another community. Ironically, I discovered that the majority of those I worked with were outside my immediate community. Though all of the children that participated in my reading class were proficient English speakers, many of the children and adults I interacted with in the Barnes library spoke primarily Spanish. The language barrier alone (and more importantly, the fact that it didn’t inhibit me from building relationships) was striking and humbling. In September when I receive my Gold Award, I will be proud not only of the time I’ve spent, but the way in which my worldview has been altered.