Understanding that skills in reading and writing are crucial for empowered and responsible citizens, the Literacy Fellows program serves to advance literacy as a way to break cycles of poverty in Hampton Roads and beyond. Fellows work to develop their own writing ability, while collaborating with outside organizations and communities to gain knowledge of the far-reaching implications of literacy.
The Literacy Fellows program has been building on our leadership retreat this past summer as we launch into a new year of work. We welcomed two new faculty members, Ms. Elaine Denson and Ms. Vanessa Yearick, two dynamic teachers who are already having a great impact on our program and our students.
Partnering with ODU education professor and literacy specialist, Dr. Judith Dunkerly, the Literacy Fellows are launching a reading program with the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Hampton Roads. The program is called “Book Box,” and we will provide Norfolk Public School students with a box of books curated and chosen for their particular interests based on the forms they return to us. The idea comes from the successful online business “Stitch Fix” where customers get a box of clothing choices that their stylist has chosen for them. The Literacy Fellows have already made 20 boxes, and are starting to get requests from eager young readers. Junior Literacy Fellow Eliza Blythe is pictured below with her box on the left, and sophomore Literacy Fellow Cooper Poorman shows of his psychedelic box on the right.
While Covid-19 safety precludes us from doing a good deal of work in the General Story in the Cooper Library and with our own in-house Catapult Press, we do plan to move some equipment and continuing the book arts and chapbook/zine publications, likely components in our Book Box work.
In addition to the Book Box project, Literacy Fellows are working to collaborate with the EDI fellows in a program led by junior David Smythe to get desks to students who need them. The program is in its initial phase, but we hope to have a prototype soon, and students in the Boys & Girls Club will be getting desks to help them do their schoolwork at home. This is a dire need for that community as even many big chains are running out of desks to sell.
In the internal curriculum work for the Literacy Fellows program, students have divided into cohorts for a triple reading schedule, rotating so that each grade level will read and discuss a book with one of our three faculty. With Dr. Kidd, seniors are reading Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University professor and literacy specialist. Juniors are reading Jonathan Kozol’s Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America with Ms. Denson. Sophomores with Ms. Yearick are reading The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore, a powerful look at two diverging lives in Baltimore. Once a cohort finishes, then we will rotate so that all three grades will have read all three books.
In addition to these readings, Literacy Fellows have been alternating reading articles and having discussions about topics ranging from the elements of effective graphic design, to the economic of poverty (especially how the global pandemic of Covid-19 is affecting that), to local studies of the plans for the St. Paul’s Area Revitalization in downtown Norfolk.
We plan to publish our 8th book this year, a collection of local teen writing about and written during the Covid-19 era, a book tentatively entitled Quaran-TEEN-ed, though that just may be a bad “Dad Joke” from Dr. Kidd to be replaced by a better one once we have all the writings assembled and edited. Other future engagements will certainly involve something with the enormous changes coming to Norfolk, VA as a result of the St. Paul’s Area Revitalization Project, something we are starting to study in depth.