At Foreman High School on Chicago's northwest side, freshmen special education students in a Reader's Workshop are finding an unexpected niche in their community. After practicing sight words throughout the semester, students partnered with clients from North Center School for Handicapped to apply their skills, support literacy development among North Center clients, and have some fun.
North Center is a staple in the Belmont Cragin community. It enables children and adults who are multiply disabled to maximize their physical, intellectual, and social skill levels, and has been doing so for over 40 years. The center is conveniently located across the street from Foreman.
To kick off the project, special education classes visited the center with an ice-breaker planned by Foreman students and a sight word game led by North Center clients. Foreman students were proud to know the sight words they had practiced and learned patience as the North Center clients worked to maintain their knowledge of the sight words. North Center clients excitedly jumped into both activities, and though Foreman students were uncertain at first, they warmed up and were thrilled for the next visit.
Later in the week Foreman students attended a session at the Belmont Cragin Library where the children's librarian demonstrated how to read to an audience. She suggested to students they practice over and over to ensure they know where to be loud, where to be soft, and how to bring excitement to the text. Mostly, she encouraged students to choose a book they like. The librarian helpfully gathered books she thought engaging to our students, and they devoured the selection and relished the childhood books they remembered.
After reading the books to each other for a week, students walked to North Center to share their stories. North Center clients were quickly engaged. They loved the colors, story, and most of all the students reading to them.
Foreman students read, played games and chatted with clients for four weekly sessions. This project built a relationship with North Center clients and staff, and strengthened one with the library. It created connections for students they may not have made before - about reading, about students with disabilities, and about their community. Thanks to our friends at North Center and for their patience with our students and for welcoming us into the lives of their clients. We hope to continue the project into next semester.