AUBURN GRESHAM — New principals at both Leo High School and Oglesby have teamed together this year in collaboration with nonprofit Leading with Literacy.
Once a week, students from Leo, an all-boys Catholic school, volunteer to read to children at Oglesby, 7646 S. Green St. The nonprofit, originally known as Real Men Read, was launched by Michael Neal, senior pastor of Glorious Light Church in 2011. The concept of the program has always been to bring men into the schools to read to grades Pre K-3.
Principal Kimberly Henderson joined Oglesby last March. She said she worked with Neal at her previous school and wanted to bring the program with her. When she reached out to the pastor, he agreed, she said, but mentioned it would be a little different this time.
“He said, ‘Not only am I coming, but I spoke to the new principal at Leo and we’re going to bring in some of his guys,’ so with a twist,” Henderson said.
Having her students see positive images of black teens and men was what excited her about the program, Henderson said.
“To have these young men come be positive role models for my children is just the best thing ever,” she said. “This is just a wonderful partnership.”
Student volunteers pick which book they want to read to the students. [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
One group of second-graders had “Trouble on the Train” read to them by 17-year-old Charles Riley. He said he picked the book because he used to watch the television version, which taught him things like brushing his teeth.
Instead of asking questions about the book, the young listeners wanted to talk to Charles about high school, asking him what is it like.
Charles said he enjoys spending time in the classroom and he loves the program.
“It’s nice for us to come and read to the kids,” he said.
Another volunteer, 17-year-old Andre Gilmer, said he was a little reluctant about participating because he didn’t think the students would behave.
He changed his mind immediately after coming to the school, he said.
“The experience has been fun,” he said. “My class, they were real cool and nice kids. They opened up and always had questions.”
Khalil Miller, 16, said he’s proud to have a role in the students' education.
“I think it’s nice to encourage them to read and pick up books because it helps them along the way get ready for high school,” he said.
Leo Principal Shaka Rawls said this opportunity is turning his young men into leaders.
“I think we need to expose our students to opportunities like this,” he said, “having them act as mentors and take leadership roles. That’s what we do at Leo.”
Neal, the program’s executive director, said it’s really important to introduce literacy to children when they’re young. The direct impact of his program is that literacy is brought into the community.
“I feel wonderful and proud because I’m watching these young men actually come and impact even younger children, so I know it’s going to make a huge impact,” Neal said.
He also likes that the students see young black men taking positive actions.
“I think that it breaks down the stereotype or myth that black men are not educated or don’t have a desire to be educators,” Neal said.
In the near future, Henderson said she’d like to see the Leo students working with her middle school students. The age gap is smaller, so they can connect better than they would with an adult, she said.
Leading with Literacy started in Bronzeville and has since expanded to schools in other areas of Chicago and other cities across the country. The program is in a total of 14 schools and growing.
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