Students Spread Love of Reading to Local Children

Students (from left) Annika Lawless, Lillian Conger, Sydney Bowman and Addy Inlow celebrate the inaugural Kids Reading Corner event. Each Saturday from Sept. 19 through Oct. 31, Truman students will take turns reading to kids on the lawn outside of the courthouse during the farmers’ market in downtown Kirksville.

Sept. 19 marked the first of what will be many events during the next few months where new Truman students promote literacy to area children.

Freshmen Sydney Bowman, Lillian Conger, Addy Inlow and Annika Lawless created the Kids’ Reading Corner, which debuted at the Kiwanis Farmers’ Market in downtown Kirksville, Sept. 19. The students took turns reading to children, and they brought age-appropriate books for older children as well. After setting up camp on the courthouse lawn – complete with balloons, blankets and pillows – area youngsters stopped by the inaugural Kids’ Reading Corner while their parents and guardians were at the farmers’ market.

“Going into this project I was going to be happy even if we only had one kid throughout the whole project,” Conger said. “For me, it’s not about how many kids we get to read to, but how many kids we get to interact with and brighten their day in these hard times.”

Kids’ Reading Corner is the product of TRU 100: READ, a one-hour action component of Truman’s First-Year Experience Symposium. As part of the class, students are responsible for developing and implementing a literacy outreach project for Kirksville children, pre-K through fifth grade. Sarah Mohler, associate professor of English, created the class with a lofty goal in mind.

“Children who read or who are read to from a young age develop stronger language and cognitive reasoning skills while also exhibiting better emotional regulation and greater empathy for others. The benefits can last a lifetime,” Mohler said.

Kids’ Reading Corner is one of 13 literacy outreach projects brainstormed by students in Mohler’s class. Other upcoming projects organized by the 100 freshmen in the class will support the Adair County Public Library, the Bruce Normile Juvenile Center, the Kirksville R-III School District and even an area laundromat, among others. Some students will also be recording books read aloud to be shared on the public library’s YouTube channel.

READ is one of nine different TRU 100 courses in the First-Year Experience Symposium, each with a different overarching goal. Most of the students in READ selected it due to their own personal interests.

“I chose this course for my TRU 100 class because I have always loved to read, and picking up a good book has just always been comforting to me,” Bowman said. “I also hope we influence the children on their perspective of reading and get them excited about it.”

For Inlow and Conger, the class also has the potential to help them in their future careers. Inlow plans to be a nurse and thought the experience could help her when working with children. Conger has her sights set on a career as an elementary teacher.

“Experience is super important to me, and being able to take a class freshman year that will help me learn about children’s literature and allow me to gain more experience with kids is just what I need,” Conger said.

Career experience is one of many potential benefits with the TRU 100 courses. They were also designed in part to help Truman students engage with their fellow classmates and their new home.

“Early engagement with service-learning will connect them with the Kirksville community earlier in their careers at Truman,” Mohler said. “Service-learning can be a powerful, transformative learning experience. Many students at Truman have done service-learning as part of their upper-level coursework, but I am so glad students have been given the opportunity to engage in service-learning in their very first semester at Truman.”

All four students behind the Kids’ Reading Corner felt the class has already enabled them make connections beyond campus boundaries.
“Participating in this class has made me feel like part of the community because I am able to reach out and talk to people from all over town,” Lawless said.

In a little more than a month, there were other noticeable changes among students in the READ course. Margaret King serves as a preceptor for the course and has witnessed firsthand how the class can assist in students getting comfortable in their new surroundings.

“Like all freshmen, they started off a tad shy and unsure about college. A lot of them were overwhelmed as well,” King said. “From what I have witnessed during these six short weeks as a preceptor so far, the TRU 100 symposium is allowing first-year students to develop leadership, organizational and professional skills, while also allowing them to use their creative and social skills to design and carry out these projects. It is not only letting them build relationships in the Kirksville community, but helping them develop long-lasting friendships with other students as well, which I can see is helping many of them find their place here at Truman.”

Other TRU 100 courses are exploring such topics as hunger in Adair County, increasing sustainability efforts, assisting with the Forest Lake Area Trail System (FLATS) and addressing how art can celebrate and strengthen community. Future outreach efforts through TRU 100 courses will be highlighted in the Truman Today.