Club member Amy, 6, spoke little English during her first session of Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago’s early literacy program, I Am A Reader. Now, over the course of one school year, she can read a story to her fellow Club members in English.

She increased her reading comprehension by six points during her time in the program, and her confidence and participation have blossomed, and now she says she loves reading.

“A lot of our programming is reshaping the overall perception of reading literature by our kids,” BGCC Early Literacy Specialist Kee Stein said. “By incorporating hands-on activities and games, we are getting them excited about reading.”

Throughout the school year and during Summer Camp, BGCC’s programs allow kids to have fun and be creative while continuing their learning before the next school year.

Over the past year, I Am A Reader has introduced “Get Lit!” days, where they dedicate programming to literacy games. They incorporate movement, rhyming, body letter building, and headband vocabulary. The staff has noticed that this is a productive way to get the kids excited about reading.

“Their energy is so high during the summer, so we want to use that for our activities,” BGCC Early Literacy Specialist Molly Senour said. “But also, once they settle down and you get into the story, they’re captivated. Once you get into the book, no matter what they are about, the kids are really connecting with it.”

Summer Programs also encourage kids to be creative by providing more dance, art and fashion workshops for Club members to express themselves.

Kortnee Quiza, Arts Program Manager, has found that offering all types of art activities, not just coloring or painting, has increased participation and excitement among Club members. One example is during Footwork Dance classes happening at more than 15 of our Clubs in partnership with nonprofit Creative Netwerk, which brings in hip-hop dancers to work with the kids.

“The kids express themselves in so many different ways,” Quiza said. “I feel like especially with fashion or dance, you’re expressing yourself in the way you feel right then and now. These footwork workshops are giving them an opportunity to freestyle in front of their peers.”

Quiza said that the Club members often encourage each other while participating in these activities, learning new things about their friends, like their interest in clothes or a new dance move. She said their confidence grows when they can do these activities in a place they already feel safe.

“For me, it’s important to have these in-club experiences,” Quiza said. “It’s something new, it’s important to them to take agency of their own bodies and do it in a space where they already feel comfortable. It just gives them more freedom to be themselves.” 

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