St. John’s Antigua- Kara Stevens’ Antiguan roots made this country a logical choice when she was fishing around for something to reinvigorate her spirit and calm her frustrations. No, we’re not talking a vacation in paradise. We’re talking instead bringing her skills to a community that could benefit from her skills.
Stevens, a former teacher, works in education administration in New York and admits being frustrated at the lack of progress. Hitting upon an idea and aware of US-based Hands Across the Seas’ efforts to provide books to schools in several eastern Caribbean countries, she’d soon submitted a proposal on coming to Antigua, and Hands beneficiary Villa School in particular, to implement a read aloud programme.
The crux of her proposal was to assist teachers in “using the books in a meaningful way.” She felt that having the books was not enough, something she’s all too aware of working in NYC where the resources may be greater but too many students still can’t read up to the standard, which she said drove home to her that “how teachers, parents, and students use the materials is the missing part of this educational crisis.”
As regulars will already know, Villa has been very proactive of late in its efforts to get the children reading, from a school library to the Future for a Child book donation programme which gifts the children copies of beloved children’s books. The success of these efforts are due as much to the attitude and efforts of the teaching staff and the school’s leadership, and Peace Corps volunteer Ina Howe.
Stevens made contact, reaching out to Howe and principal, Mrs Jarvis. “I proposed that I would do an instructional residency,” she said. “I would demonstrate a read aloud strategy and talk about activities that could go with them.”
First she demonstrated, then she and the staff got together to evaluate and plan, and then they implemented an approach she described as “I do, we do, you do.” She reports a positive response to the experiment. “They really liked it,” she said, the ‘they’ in question being both the teachers and the students.
The read-aloud activities got the children thinking, talking about, and reacting to the material while building everything from their listening skills to their vocabulary, potentially leading to an improvement in what experts call “language expression”. One of the books shared was Why Do Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale, a story that opened the door for discussion of broader social issues. “We talked a lot about cause and effect and personal responsibility,” Stevens said.
She emphasized that reading is far more than a frivolous diversion. “When you read, you read to make personal connections; you read to enhance your life,” Stevens said. “When you read to be literate in terms of being critically thoughtful, you have to have interaction with the text; (let it) marinate.”
The idea was to inspire young people, to get them talking, and to set in motion their ability to reason. The follow through on this week-long training exercise now rests with the teachers. “It’s really up to them,” she said, “to try and sketch out a schedule for read aloud.”