The College of Education & Human Development’s Dean’s Literacy Corps provides college students the opportunity to mentor children in underserved schools in the community in an effort to boost literacy engagement. The program was made possible through a $31,000 America Reads grant from the Department of Education.
“Early Literacy is one of the cornerstones for promoting lifelong learning,” Donald Easton-Brooks, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, said. “I am so proud of the faculty, staff, and students who are contributing to the start of the learning process for many of the young ones in our community.”
The first cohort of the Dean’s Literacy Corps includes seventeen undergraduate students. The students are enrolled in the Human Development and Family Science course, HDFS 231: Practicum with Children and Families, and placed in local early childhood education centers to build relationships with children by reading to or with them. As the children’s ages range from birth through six years old, this early intervention supports language development, healthy peer connections and social-emotional growth through literacy and play, as well as a chance for hands-on applied learning for the University students.
“Our students are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of those they serve,” Jenna Dewar, Human Development and Family Science senior lecturer and program coordinator, said. “In this partnership, they are stepping into the lives of our youngest learners to invite them into new learning opportunities through literacy, play and relationship building.”
The majority of the students in the Dean’s Literacy Corp are first-generation college students – the first in their family to attend college, and their work and passion have the ability to uplift and inspire the next generation of first-generation college students.
Regina Aguilar Becerra reflected on her experience as a student mentor. “Through this program, I am learning so much about how to approach children in a very positive manner,” she said. “I am also learning how to get the children to be expressive of their emotions as they are feeling them. I am applying skills such as winning ways to talk to children, which allows the children to learn right from wrong through a learning environment.
“These things are important because as a child grows up, they should be able to express themselves, which can be taught at this early age. Most importantly, I am gaining experience that I am able to use in a professional setting after graduation.”
The students visit seven different locations throughout Reno, Sparks, Carson City and Fernley to spend time in the children’s classrooms and to engage in one-on-one reading sessions. Developmentally appropriate methods will be used depending on the age and needs of the child. In turn, college students will gain insight into different classroom settings and positive interactions with children, families and teachers.
Literacy engagement is of the utmost importance now, more than ever, due to the detrimental widespread educational impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies show that roughly one-third of kindergarten through second-grade students are missing reading benchmarks. The learning loss disproportionally affects children who are African American, Latino, with a disability and low-income.
Director of Development for the College of Education and Human Development Quentin Owens Smith talks about the importance of community engagement.
“As a Land-Grant University, it is pertinent that we continue to serve the diverse populations of Nevada,” Owens Smith said. “Our goal at the College is to strive toward seeking ways to uplift and give back. We are so grateful for the students and our community partners bridging the gaps and inspiring the next Wolf Pack generation.”
The grant financially supports the college students for the six hours per week they dedicate to working with the children.
“Our department (Human Development, Family Science and Counseling) is committed to exploring opportunities for paid field experience,” Dewar said. “It is socially just to not only compensate students for their own well-being but to ensure the children served have ample, well-trained caregivers in classrooms. Funding streams such as the America Reads program are indispensable resources in this effort.
A Human Development and Family Science degree prepares students for a variety of careers, such as administrators of child development or family services programs, child development specialists, school-age program coordinators, youth program specialists, community education instructors, parent educators, family financial planners, consumer advocates and family public policy advocates. Graduates also have an excellent foundation for additional training in teaching, school counseling, marital and family counseling, social work, family law and occupational therapy.