For over five years, the Super Readers are Super Heroes literacy program sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts has been giving out certificates to students who reach reading milestones. This year, three of the program's graduate student leaders at the University of Nevada, Reno were given awards. Literacy program graduate assistants Sara Gray, Jacqueline Kirshenbaum and Christine McDermott were awarded Volunteer of the Year by the Boys and Girls Club. The graduate students are site coordinators at various locations in Reno, Nev. and work with kids who come from low-income families or foster care.
The Super Readers are Super Heroes program was started by Criminal Justice Professor, Monica Miller and is grant-funded by the University of Nevada, Reno Regent's Service Program to support five graduate students to give one-on-one lessons two-to-three times a week at the Boys and Girls Club. Participants in the program are usually between third and seventh grades. The program is designed by McGraw Hill and has a series of 30 lessons for kids to ideally take over a 15-week period. Although, most of the kids who start the program lack structure and discipline, so it usually takes longer than 15 weeks for them to complete.
Miller was excited to share that her graduate students were being awarded for participation in this program. "It is a good recognition of what these graduate assistants are doing in the community," she said.
Gray is a master's student in criminal justice and has been involved with the literacy program for nearly two years. "This community is of lower socioeconomic status and many of these kids do not get a lot of parental attention. I think this programming is important to that community," she said. Gray studies crime as part of her degree and she said it's necessary to understand how providing a little extra attention like reading lessons to kids in high crime communities can help change criminal behavioral patterns.
Kirshenbaum is in the social psychology Ph.D. program at the University and has been a literacy program supervisor for two years. "The program has not only improved literacy in these at-risk youth, but the staff has also served as role models," she said. Kirshenbaum has been thrilled with the experience she has gained in implementing a youth-based program in the real-world and the connections she has made. "We have built a strong relationship with the Boys and Girls Club and we are their most reliable volunteers. The Boys and Girls Club is a well-respected part of the community, and the literacy program has really allowed UNR to be part of it."
McDermott is also in the social psychology Ph.D. program and helped Miller get the literacy program up-and-running. Her role is to help implement programs and perform program site evaluations. She feels this program is extremely beneficial, not only to the local community but to all communities. Living in poverty has negative effects on a child's performance in school and increases their chance of criminal activity and continuing the cycle of poverty.
"It is amazing to see how quickly we see improvements in the children we work with. Not only do we hear from parents and students that their grades are improving, but adults in their lives notice improved behavior as well," McDermott said.
She also noted the importance of building and maintaining good relationships with community organizations helps improve local communities as a whole. She believes these are essential skills that she will be able to use in future careers.