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Undergraduate students make a local difference via enrollment in Literacy Ed’s Project ROAR

April 6, 2012
DeKalb schoolchildren surround Project ROAR tutor Allyce Leafbland.

DeKalb schoolchildren surround Project ROAR tutor Allyce Leafbland.

The elementary students ask their teachers weekly: “When are the ROAR tutors coming?”

Project ROAR – Reaching Out Through Art and Reading has existed at NIU for 14 years.

Its focus is to help students at the elementary level develop their vocabulary and love for reading. Over time, the project has become a way for bilingual students to learn English in a fun and interesting way.

Chris Carger, director of Project ROAR, has a team of undergraduate students who tutor at elementary schools in the DeKalb School District.

The tutors meet with the same two to four students once a week to perform three tasks with the children: read a specific story out loud to the children; practice vocabulary related to the literature by playing a game; and create an art project that connects to the story.

Carger and her tutors work together to create and implement these weekly lessons.

“The kids enjoy our time with them,” says Allyce Leafbland, an elementary education major and a tutor for Project ROAR. “They don’t even think they are learning, but we see the rewards week to week.”

The teachers at the school recognize the significance of Project ROAR.

Because of the demand to focus on test standards, teachers are not able to read out loud to their students as often. Additionally, because of cutbacks, students do not engage in as many art projects.

Carger strives to select the best children’s literature that is available for the tutoring sessions. She asks the teachers for subject matter suggestions so that the tutor session will coordinate with what the students are learning in class.

“Often times,” she adds, “we try to use books that are culturally sensitive, so that (the students) see in the literature reflections of themselves or the places they may come from.”

Book cover of "Back of the Bus," illustrated by Floyd CooperPictures in a book help convey meaning to the children who are learning English, Carger says.

In a recent session, the selected book was “Back of the Bus” by Aaron Reynolds. The book tells the story of Rosa Parks from a young African-American boy’s perspective. On one page, the boy is drawn beautifully; he is lying on a couch and his finger is playing with a marble that is rolling on the floor.

“If the students don’t know what a marble is,” Carger says, “they will now because of the picture.”

The art project to accompany the book consisted of assembling a bus from shoe boxes and construction paper.

After construction, the kids were asked to name their buses in a way that would reflect what they learned from the story, such as, no law exists that tells people where they have to sit on a bus.  Her sample bus was titled “Freedom Riders.”

Leafbland notices the rewards of the art projects incorporated into the tutoring sessions.

“One student struggles with both English and Spanish; this student really enjoys the art project and is very talented,” she says. “The student includes elements of the book or vocabulary game in his art, so something is clicking.”

Carger and Leafbland agree that the children are most engaged when it comes to the art project: “The art project is significant for the bilingual children because it gets even the shy kids excited and participating in using their English words,” Carger says.

Supplies used for the art projects are purchased with financial aid received to support the program, such as grants and donations.

ROAR was rewarded an internal grant from NIU, known as a P-20 grant, and Carger received a $2000 grant from Target this past year.  In addition to art supplies, the funds have allowed Carger to purchase new and larger books for the read out loud segment.

Chris Carger

Chris Carger

“The bigger books are easier for the kids to see,” Carger says, adding, “I’m very grateful for the help ROAR receives from Target. Target is very supportive of programs that integrate literacy and the arts, and that is exactly what ROAR does.”

Over the years, ROAR has also received donations from parents and grandparents affiliated with students in ROAR.

One year, a ROAR tutor’s parents donated pumpkins for an art project. Carger uses pumpkins every year around Halloween. “It tends to be their favorite project,” Carger adds.

Besides helping the elementary teachers and students, ROAR assists participating tutors who are elementary education majors in learning about and working with English Language Learners (ELL), diversity in schools and multicultural education.

“I’ve learned a lot more by doing it than by hearing about it,” says Leafbland, who recalls a bilingual tutor who combined English and Spanish during the read out loud segment. “It was awesome to provide that experience for the students, and they loved it.”

While many of ROAR’s tutors are elementary education majors, any student can participate for undergraduate level credit. The course, LTRE 231, can be taken up to two times for undergraduate credit.

Carger believes that art, Spanish or business majors can also benefit from participating in ROAR. “Really, anyone who likes kids should participate,” she says.

Students interested in becoming tutors for Project ROAR should contact Carger at [email protected] or (815) 753-9267.

by Janey Kubly