USC program pairs boys with books
Ask 5-year-old Cody Cartier about his summer reading program, and he can be a bit shy. It’s not until he talks about a visit from USC’s Trojan basketball players that he becomes animated. He and the athletes played a game in which they had to bounce a basketball 10 times in a row to win, Cody said.
Basketball and reading might not seem interrelated at first. But USC’s Kinder to College program, a literacy initiative of USC Civic Engagement, is designed especially for boys like Cody. It uses play-based learning to keep their attention while developing their confidence and teaching them that education can be fun.
Cody has been transformed by the program, said his mother, Deborah Cartier. “He was a very shy kid,” she said. “But due to this program, you can see this development in him. I can see him speaking out more. He’s so excited about learning now. He asks lots more questions.”
The program has a special focus on minority boys. By third grade, many struggle to attain the same reading and writing proficiency as girls, said program manager Sean Taitt MSW ’11. That’s because boys and girls learn differently: Girls are more able to learn sitting in front of a teacher, while boys tend to be more fidgety.
In order to appeal to the boys, the program has them participate in a variety of activities, from learning to read a map to making Play-Doh. About 30 students meet on Saturdays to read stories and write in a journal, often with a parent, which helps reinforce the lesson. There’s a strong emphasis on STEM-learning — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and Taitt plans to teach children about simple chemical reactions and different planets when the program starts up again on Sept. 8.
“We base this on the state and local school’s curriculum,” Taitt said. “They’ll be doing these kinds of things anyway, so why not give them a little push toward learning?”
That push can go a long way. The program is called Kinder to College, after all, and the end goal is to prepare youngsters for academic success all the way through high school. The students can stay with the program until third grade and will be tracked after that, Taitt said. When they reach fifth grade, they’ll be encouraged to join USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), a program that has helped hundreds of local students get to college. NAI students who meet certain academic requirements can receive a full-tuition scholarship to USC.
“We’re trying to strengthen that pathway into NAI,” said Melissa Gaeke, executive director of academic partnerships with USC Civic Engagement, adding that NAI students help tutor the children as well. The university’s basketball team has also been supportive, she said — hence the visit this summer, which came on the heels of a $7,000 gift from USC Athletics. Their gift will help pay for educational trips, snacks and T-shirts for the boys to wear on Saturdays.
“[Athletics Director] Pat Haden has created a lot of opportunities for USC Athletics to engage the community surrounding our campuses, and the basketball team has really embraced his charge this summer,” Gaeke said. “It highlights the commitment to service we have here at USC, and it’s great for the team.”
For more information about USC’s community initiatives, visit communities.usc.edu