Tackling Grand Challenges: Expanding Literacy with Community Partners

By: Maya Piñón, Spanish and Political Science

WRIT Engagement Corps (WEC) is a DU student-led group that aims to create mutually beneficial university-community partnerships centered on writing, reading, and literacy activities.  With the support of an Advancing Community- Engaged (ACE) Student Scholars Grant,  WEC sponsored a book fair at Grant Beacon Middle School (GBMS) in April. This was the first time WEC members hosted a book fair with one of it’s two community partner schools. Typically,  members’ work has two components. First, in the fall quarter, members assist weekly or bi-weekly at Asbury Elementary School. Members aid the elementary teachers in any way the teachers see fit: reading partners, spelling games, and more. Second, in the winter and spring quarters, members teach an after-school enrichment class twice a week. Last year, WEC members created an entirely new curriculum centered around “the power of stories.” The curriculum included themes such as personal identity, group identity, and censorship.

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Book Fair at Grant Beacon Middle School

This year, due to a combination of internal complications, we were not prepared to teach the after-school enrichment class. We still wanted to maintain our community relationship, though, and decided that a book fair would be a valuable way to sustain our mission of expanding literacy with GBMS. So, we applied for funding through DU Grand Challenges and received an ACE Grant sponsored by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. With these funds, we purchased around 200 books from local book vendors, the Bookies and the Book Rack. We collected about 50 more from donations. On the day of the book fair, students chose one book to keep for their enjoyment. All of the leftover books were donated to the GBMS reading teachers.

Although this project initially started purely as a gift for the GBMS community, one of our advisors, Dr. Brad Benz, recommended that we record what genres and reading levels were most popular. So, we catalogued each book before and after the fair. We were pleased to find that a large majority of the students read at, or above, the appropriate reading level according to their grade level. More importantly, though, we learned that the most popular genres among these middle-schoolers were Fiction Young Adult (YA) and Fantasy YA.


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Maya Piñón with a GBMS Student at the Fair

These findings are significant as we will be using this information to revise our curriculum. Originally, we were using many nonfiction texts because of the nature of the theme of our curriculum. When focusing on identity, we wanted to ensure that we included a variety of identities. So, we included many nonfiction short stories. Now we know, however, that the Nonfiction YA genre is not very popular at all—in fact, it is the least popular.

We continue to struggle with reading assignments because we recognize that middle-schoolers simply will not read outside of the class because it is just an after-school class. What is more, they generally dislike reading longer texts in class because they are tired and restless near the end of the day. We will continue to search for Fiction YA and Fantasy YA texts that will be more interesting for the students yet relevant to “the power of stories.”

Even more than this constructive data, we enjoyed working with various individuals who all contribute to promoting literacy in a school. GBMS’s librarian, Victoria, was supportive and grateful. Dan from the Book Rack was enthusiastic and interested. There are numerous other examples—our interactions were all quite pleasant. We feel proud of our work and the success of the event. This has added a component of work that we did not anticipate, but it was instrumental in the understanding our students’ interests and the complexity of a community partnership.

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GBMS Students Look For Books of Interest

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