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May 5, 2017

 

Real Men Read

 
 
When Real
Men Read
launched in October 2016, organizers weren’t really sure how it
would be received. But they had high hopes for its success.

 

The
fledgling reading and mentoring program asked male volunteers to read for an
hour a month — from October to May — to a classroom full of IPS fourth-grade
students. By the end of May, roughly 700 students in our elementary schools
will have participated in Real Men Read.Real Men Read Books

 

While
teachers — even students — say the program has been successful, it has produced
benefits that sometimes take years to see.

 

Ashli
Adams, a fourth-grade teacher at Clarence Farrington School 61, said she’s
actually seen an improvement in her students’ reading habits since volunteer
Morgan Jones, a college student and tennis coach at Brownsburg High School, started
reading to the class.

 

On
Friday, April 28, Jones stopped by to read “The Real Slam Dunk,” by Charisse K.
Richardson. Each month, students and their volunteer read a different book
provided by Scholastic. Students also receive a free copy of each book.

 

“I actually see (my students) reading these books over and
over again, whereas, it’s a struggle to get them to read other books. The books
that he’s (Jones) shared with us, they think are really cool,” said Adams, who
understands there’s a difference between her asking students to read and Jones
making the same request.

 

As the teacher, Adams admits that getting her students to
read for fun can seem just like another “school assignment” many are unwilling
to do. “But when they see someone like Mr. Jones, who they think is cool, and
they see that he reads, it really helps,” she said.

 

It also helps that the volunteers are men.

 

“I think it’s really important to have a male role model in
the class because our kids really focus on gender roles — from colors, movies,
anything,” said Adams. “Reading to them is considered more of a female role and
to see someone like Jones, who plays sports like them, reading is good. A lot
of them don’t have male role models in their life, and they need that. They have
become really attached to him.”

 

The connection between Jones and the students was evident
the moment he walked inside the class during a recent visit. Although there to
read, Jones begins each class asking students for updates about their lives. He
also shares details of his life with the students.

 

“Engaging with the kids is just something that I do because
I really do care about what’s going on in their lives,” said Jones. “So I give
them a little bit of time to tell me what’s going on in theirs and I tell them
what’s going on in mine, so we can have that more personal connection.

I love giving back to the community and spending time with
the young people.”

 

Classmates
Rashod B. and Qimijah R. said they love reading books with
Jones.

 

Rashod, who wants to be a professional basketball player, was
intently following along during the reading of “The Real Slam Dunk.” But both
he and Qimijah said their favorite book so far has been “Grace for President.”

 

“I like the program a lot, and I like how he (Jones) reads
to us,” said Qimijah, 10. “He makes the stories funny because of the way that
he reads (with emotion).”

 

“He also asks for and gives us fashion tips, too,” said
Rashod, 10.

 

“(Being in the program) feels good, because he’s nice and he
wants to learn more about us and get to know us better,” added Qimijah.

 

It’s hard to pinpoint if the gains made in reading are because
of the Real Men Read program, but Adams said the growth she’s seen in her
students happened after the program started.

 

It is hard to gauge,
but I do know that when we’ve done things like silent reading, they are more
engaged,” said Adams. “Compared to the first time that Jones was here, students
are asking more poignant questions and they will answer more directly with
answers from the text.  I attribute it to
this (program), because these are the books that they choose during quiet
reading.”

 

Allyson Peterkin, IPS literacy coach and head of the Real
Men Read program, said, overall, the program has been a success. She’s
factoring teacher feedback into her assessment.

 

“We think it went really well during its inaugural year.
Looking at the feedback from the teachers, they all agree that the students are
excited to see the mentors and that the mentors are having a positive effect on
the students,” said Peterkin.

 

Students are positively affecting mentors, too.

 

“I’ve really enjoyed my time doing this,” said Jones. “I
really feel like I’m making a difference to the community and to the city of
Indianapolis. After my time in the military, it’s given me a sense of purpose.”