Guest Post by BtB Intern Jennifer Daniels
I stumbled across Behind the Book while searching for somewhere to volunteer. I saw their mission and was hooked! It was unique, inspiring, and progressive. As a bookworm myself, the prospect of being involved with an organization that encourages children to read was a chance I couldn’t miss.
Last week was my first time volunteering for Behind the Book. I turned up at the school, signed in and headed upstairs where I met my brothers in arms for the day (the other volunteers). The class we were going to had recently been crafting their own ballads based on icons from the Harlem Renaissance. Being from England, I don’t know much about the Harlem Renaissance let alone the legends involved. Google came in handy.
After entering the classroom, however, I realized these kids already had all of the information they needed about Langston Hughes (my table’s icon). The small classroom setting meant that I worked with three students. I was able spend time helping each child individually and encourage them to help each other by coming up with ideas as a table. It was amazing to see these students flourish under individual attention. Each student was eager to show me their poem, presenting their work with pride and confidence.
I was also struck by the welcome the other volunteers received when we entered the classroom. Each of them had volunteered with the class before and were continuing to work with the same table. To have the same adults come back and work with them meant a lot to these students. Each child was able to show their mentor the improvements they had done to their poems and receive individual praise and input.
This particular workshop was a great one to participate in as the kids were working on the material that will eventually become their own student book. The book will be a compilation of ballads on various role models of the Harlem Renaissance. Sitting and watching these poems come to life, I was able to witness part of the impact Behind the Book programs have. I was able to see what happens after the author visits.
One can look at Behind the Book’s mission and be skeptical of its success. Of course there would be interest from the students during author visits, but what about afterward? Surely the children lose interest and become uninspired, one might think. Not so.
Don’t you remember when volunteers came into the classroom or you went on a field trip in school? Personally, I was always more interested in the day when the routine was changed. The continued classroom workshops created by Behind the Book in coordination with the teacher helps elevate the everyday routine for the kids. Throughout the whole semester, the program is fun, interesting and something different in their school day. By using authors and their books as a platform for this exciting program, Behind the Book links reading to fun. The program shows that books can be interactive and engaging. For me, the enthusiasm shown by the students reflected this message: reading equals fun. Additionally, the self-confidence gained by displaying your work to one of the volunteers was also evident from the excitement that rippled through the classroom.
The time flew by and before I knew it we were saying goodbye. I came away from the experience with the reminder that one should not limit someone by their age. I was humbled by the students’ ideas. Too often I find myself filling in for a child as they struggle with their sentence, or jumping at the chance to help them spell. That morning, as I sat listening to these kids read their poems, I thought of how quickly I like to help when actually the best help I can give is extra time for the idea to form. How can I expect a child to think for themselves if I am constantly doing it for them? Behind the Book recognizes this and aims to give kids an environment in which they can make mistakes and come away thinking for themselves increasing their self-confidence.
When scrolling through those volunteer opportunities online, little did I realize what a gem I had discovered. It was only in the classroom where I was able to see the programs at work that I finally understood how important programs like these are. Yes, I was initially interested in Behind the Book because it encourages children to read, but it does so much more than that. Behind the Book creates children who can think for themselves, have self-confidence, and who can face the world a little bit better, knowing that they are a success.
As a volunteer I witnessed the values of Behind the Book in action. I was especially struck by the value that Behind the Book gave to the students work. The consistent visits to the classroom reiterates to the students that their work is important. Additionally, Behind the Book takes that work and makes it into a book giving it extra value. These students are told that their work is special and therefore deserves to be published. My volunteering experience was eye opening and I look forward to my next school visit.
If you would like to volunteer with Behind the Book and discover for yourself the amazing work we do contact us through our volunteer page.
Jennifer Daniels recently graduated with a degree in English and History from the University of Winchester in England. When moving to the United States she desired to continue to work within a field that included aspects of her degree. Jennifer came across Behind the Book online and she is now interning and volunteering with the organization and is excited to see where these new opportunities take her.