Students in a Mercer University class didn’t get to say goodbye in person to the elementary school kids they had been tutoring, so they did it through storytime videos.
For the first time this spring, Dr. Amy Borchardt had students in her INT 201 “Building Community” course volunteer with the United Way’s Read 2 Succeed program. The 18 Mercer freshmen and sophomores visited Brookdale, Union and Burdell Hunt elementary schools in Macon-Bibb County to tutor kindergartners through third-graders in reading.
“I think it’s a really great opportunity to connect with the Macon community and to mentor kids who might need a little extra boost at school,” said Aerin Farrell, a rising junior and psychology major who worked with first-graders at Burdell-Hunt Elementary. “It was a really great program to be a part of.”
The tutoring was cut short when schools shuttered in response to COVID-19. Dr. Borchardt, associate professor of psychology, said she wanted to do something to wrap up the time the Mercer and elementary students had spent together and honor the bonds they had forged. She asked her class to make videos that included positive messages to the kids and the reading of an age-appropriate book.
The Mercer students watched drafts of each other’s videos in Zoom, provided feedback and revised them. Six videos — some made as a group and some individually — were published on YouTube, and the links were sent to the elementary schools to share with their kids.
“I’ve gotten really positive feedback,” Dr. Borchardt said. “It ended up being so rewarding, and I was just so proud of them at the end of the day about how the videos turned out. The goal was to conclude the semester on a high note.”
Incoming junior Alaina Moore, a neuroscience major, tutored first-graders at Union Elementary and read “Hansel and Gretel” in her video. She chose this book because it was one of her favorites as a child. In the video, Moore flips through the pages of the book and points to the drawings as she reads. She provides commentary and asks questions throughout the story.
“I think that the reading project really found a new way to connect to the students,” Moore said. “It showed that there are many ways to get children excited to read. I think it was done in a really creative way and in a way that it was coming from the heart of the volunteers. I think it was one of my favorite things I’ve done so far (with service learning).”
Moore hoped the kids would enjoy her video and that it would motivate them to want to keep on reading. She said the project reinforced the importance of her role as a reading volunteer and helped her to find closure since she didn’t get to say goodbye to the children.
Farrell created a video in which she reads an online version of “Berry Pinkwad’s Lumpy Dumpy Sand Sculptures” by Max Brallier.
“I know our time together got cut short, but I’m so proud of how far you all have come on your reading journeys. I know next year you will come back just as strong and just as great as the readers you are,” she tells the children at the end of her video.
Farrell wanted her students to know how much she has been thinking about them and how much she cares about them and their progress as readers.
Rising junior Carlin Weinberg, a psychology major, tutored first-graders at Brookdale Elementary and was part of a four-person group that read “A Bad Case of Stripes” by David Shannon. In the video, the Mercer students give a special message to the children before taking turns reading pages of the book.
“I’m hoping they get some encouragement through that and that we are able to help them in their pursuit of reading even though we are not able to meet anymore,” Weinberg said. “It was a great thing to do to tie it all together and instill some hope in them during this time and encourage them to continue their reading throughout the summer and the upcoming school year.”