ENGLEWOOD —Two hundred students including those at John Hope College Prep will benefit this year from a three-year-old reading program aimed at getting students to read more.
Hope, a charter school at 5515 S. Lowe Ave., will be the third of 10 schools this year to offer the free program by the nonprofit Open Books. The program runs from March 11 to May 8 at Hope and will meet for one hour every Tuesday and Thursday. Students will read the novel, "There Are No Children Here," by author Alex Kotlowitz.
After this school year the "ReadThenWrite" program would have served nearly 500 students, said Anna Piepmeyer, director of education for Open Books.
The program is open to students in sixth grade and higher and has already begun at Chicago Talent Developmental High School on the Near West Side and Fairfield Elementary School in Chicago Lawn. Typically the program runs between eight and 16 weeks.
Students participate in the program during English and language arts classes where 10 volunteers are present with the teacher.
Janeisa Jolly, a 16-year-old junior at Gage Park High School, participated in the program in the fall and said it helped her a lot.
"I got to meet a very awesome [volunteer] and bond with her. She helped me get over my fear of writing the wrong thing," Jolly recalled. "Now I just freely write then I go back and look at my mistakes. I used to think for so long about what I would write first."
Damon Washington, who participated in 2012 while a sophomore at Chicago Talent, said he would like to the program at all schools.
"I think Open Books should go worldwide because they are helping young people expand their minds," Washington said.
In a YouTube video students spoke positively about the program and gave it high marks for getting them more interested in reading and writing. One way students are engaged is by writing about their life experiences, Piepmeyer said.
"We wrote poems about ourselves to get people to know us. I wrote about my past relationships," said DeShawn Wallace, who participated in 2012 at Chicago Talent. "This program enhanced my writing skills."
But it is the end results that ties everything together, Piepmeyer said.
"At the conclusion of the program we publish student memoirs in a book. Each student receives a copy to remind them of their achievement," she said.
The published books are then shared with students and volunteers at a book launch party at the organization's Open Books Store, 213 W. Institute Place. And donated books the organization receives annually are sold at the bookstore to help fund the program.
"We have worked mainly with urban youths in some pretty tough neighborhoods. But we are also going to be at schools whose students are not predominately minority. We will work with any school that wants us there," Piepmeyer said.
From March 18 to May 23 the program will be at Alcott Elementary School in Lincoln Park. Other schools where the program will start this year include Pilsen Community Academy from March 31 to June 4, and Mitchell Elementary School in West Town from April 1 to June 10.
But the backbone of the program is its volunteers, Piepmeyer said.
"Without them it would be difficult to run this program," she said.
Charlotte Woolley, 25, has been volunteering since last year and now is an intern at Open Books.
"Even though I do not have any kids of my own I love working with children. What attracted me to volunteer was the writing component," said the Roscoe Village resident, who earned a bachelor's in English and History from the University of North Carolina.
"I thought that was a great way to engage students into reading more. And seeing the self confidence students gain from having their work published is priceless."
Piepmeyer said Open Books is seeking more volunteers this year and is holding an orientation session at 1 p.m. Friday and Feb. 27 at its office, 213 W. Institute Place. And anyone interested should fill out an online volunteer form to be considered.