After attending an Akron Public Schools children’s literacy workshop, Sharon Connor walked away with one important truth: Young minority children – particularly males – have very few role models when it comes to reading.
“In most children’s literature, you’re hard-pressed to find a picture of a minority boy with a book in his hand,” said Connor, the president of Residents Improving Goodyear Heights Together. Instead, she said, most books show young minority students running, jumping or engaged in some type of physical activity.
“And I thought, ‘Well, that’s easy. We can make that happen,’” Connor said. She soon came up with a project that would quite literally put books in the hands of children at the new Barber Community Learning Center.
“The R.I.G.H.T. committee wanted to create something lasting as an art piece within the school to show community support for the children in the new building,” Connor said.
So, the group created a photographic art display inside the school. The “Readers Become Leaders” display features framed photographs of every kindergarten student reading their favorite book. Interspersed with the students’ photos are pictures of community leaders like the mayor, superintendent, policemen and teachers – all of whom are shown reading children’s books.
“It was spectacular,” Connor said. “If young male students have never been exposed to the image that reading is critical to education through printed material, then it is up to us to not only create that image but to bring it to the forefront of education with a daily visual reminder.”
The striking display encompasses more than 100 square feet and was strategically placed in a hallway that children take on their way to gym and lunch. It is also adjacent to the school library to create what Connor calls a “reading-focused area” on the main corridor of the second floor.
“It’s just a constant visual reminder of how important reading should be to them,” Connor said. “The children in the pictures look deliriously happy, and it has that infectiousness.”
The photos will remain on display until the current kindergarteners graduate from elementary school, at which point the students will get to keep their framed photo and a new class will take their place.
“If we can encourage students to read for pleasure at a young age, they will become lifelong learners,” Connor said. “Everything revolves around being able to read, and capturing that as a youngster is critical.”
Connor attributes much of the success of the project to the grant R.I.G.H.T. received from the Millennium Fund. The Millennium Fund’s mission is to support grassroots organizations where even a small grant can make a big difference.
“Without the Millennium Fund, we would not have done it,” Connor said. “We wouldn’t have been able to make (Readers Become Leaders) a focal point, which it has become.”