Mortar Board members have had national projects since the earliest days of our Society. In 2002 the delegates passionately decided to participate in the "Reading is Leading" initiative.
Why "Reading is Leading"?
Mortar Board members can help cultivate strong ethics by reading stories, newspaper articles and current events issues to or alongside students at various levels of education. Major issues like academic integrity, reading comprehension, and the value of an education should be addressed early on at elementary and secondary schools, and members have the opportunity to build fulfilling relationships with those that they are reading to or reading with. Members may work with students of any age, including helping non-native English-speakers to learn English as a second language (ESL).
Mortar Board strives to promote literacy across the world for people of all ages, and individual chapters conduct read-a-thins, book drives (trick-or-treat for books, book drops, book fundraising competitions with prizes for other student organizations), adopt-a-school programs that challenge other student organizations on campus, reading programs at children’s hospitals and nursing homes, and functional literacy workshops.
"Reading is Leading" is applicable to any race, creed, color, ethnicity, socioeconomic group, regardless of region, gender or age; it is versatile enough to be applied to any chapter’s goals or aspirations. Mortar Board can help cultivate academic integrity and a love of learning in elementary and secondary schools by reading stories, newspaper articles and current events issues with students.
"Reading is Leading" can also help to improve “town and gown” relations by bringing campus leaders into the community to work with students and the elderly. Additionally, topics like alcohol use can be read and discussed with older students. The project appeals to potential corporate sponsors across the political spectrum. It is nonpartisan and politically ‘safe’ for companies and foundations to endorse with grant monies. Moreover, it is an attractive political issue at the moment in light of recent waves of youth violence, making it an excellent candidate for corporate sponsorship.
By targeting reading as a response to youth violence issues and children at risk, Mortar Board tackles a national issue with a practical, pro-active program. This program can only serve to increase Mortar Board’s visibility both locally and nationally. Reading gives a volunteer the chance to share with her/his reading partner and to talk about things related to the story, like leadership, that can be very influential. Reading to someone may be just a simple act of service, but it can have a profound effect in the lives of others.
Our chapter is starting an all-new Reading is Leading project this year. Although this is a new endeavor, we believe that it will be very rewarding and a great learning experience. Our chapter has the privilege to collaborate with Hillcrest Youth Authority in order to bring Reading is Leading into the juvenile corrections system. Hillcrest is one of Oregon's main juvenile correctional facilities, housing over 100 male offenders from the ages 12-25. Hillcrest also serves as the statewide intake assessment for male youth.
We at the Cap and Gown chapter feel that it is very important to help the youth of today in order to make a better community for tomorrow. Because of this, we decided to take our help somewhere we felt would benefit the most from Reading is Leading; juvenile corrections. We plan on holding a book club that meets once a week within the correctional facility with the incarcerated youth. Not only will we be reading books as part of the book club, but further independent reading will also be encouraged. This not only encourages the youth to read more, it also enables them to socialize with college students, which will hopefully encourage them to consider further education for themselves. We hope that this experience will be enriching for both the youth and our members.
If you are not a part of our chapter, but are interested in volunteering at Hillcrest Youth Authority, please contact Michelle Inderbitzen at: firstname.lastname@example.org
As we hope to have this project become an annual tradition for the project, we decided to document our experience here for duplication in further years, and to illustrate what our chapter is working on.
Today was our orientation day! We drove up to Hillcrest and got to meet the youth we will be working with and tour the facility. When we met the youth, we had no idea what to expect, and were honestly a little nervous. Most images of incarceration in the media portray these rough and surly men who are very intimidating. This was not what we encountered. Instead of hardened criminals, we encountered regular teenage boys. Not only did they act polite and considerate, they were very enthusiastic about our Reading is Leading project, which is probably more than you can say about a group of teenagers from your local high school. They also went out of their way to make us feel welcome. One group even reorganized all the furniture so we could all face each other. It was very inspiring to see how enthusiastic they were.
Our chapter created a $450 scholarship for the purchase of books for this project, so the youth were able to help choose which books they would be reading. When we told them this, we were instantly hit with a barrage of great ideas. The books ranged over many genera, from poetry, to personal stories, to dystopian novels. After some discussion, we settled on Divergent for Group 1 and 3, and Hunger Games for Group 2. While we didn’t get to spend much time with the youth this visit, we will be starting our book club next week and we look forward to getting to know them all better!
Over the course of our Reading is Leading project, we held three separate book clubs within Hillcrest. As these clubs were so full of meaningful and thought provoking experiences that we can’t write them all down, we decided to share both our experiences and the experiences of the youth from Hillcrest through a series of quotes about the project.
“It really means a lot for us to have volunteers come in and spend time with us. While we appreciate the staff here, there is something special about someone coming to see us who is not taking home a paycheck. It shows us that they really care; it makes us feel more human.” –Hillcrest youth
“The Reading is Leading book club program at Hillcrest has been one of the most rewarding service projects that I have ever participated in. Giving the youth a chance to see that there are people that care about them, believe that they can have a positive future, and want to see them succeed makes this program so worthwhile. For me personally, having the chance to gain new perspectives and improve my understanding of the kids that we work with has been very beneficial.” -Tiffany Netz, Cap and Gown Historian
“They let me attending this book club count as part of my treatment. It really helps me to come here.” –Hillcrest youth
“Working with these young men has been deeply rewarding to me. Not only did I get to meet some amazing people, but I also got to learn more about the criminal justice system in the United States. I felt like getting to put a name, a face, even a favorite snack, to the people who are often just marked off as “delinquent” or “criminal” was very enlightening. In reality, the youth in Hillcrest are not that different from the rest of us, and I think it’s very important for more people to realize that.” -Story Edison, Cap an Gown Webmaster
"Thank you again so much for coming in! You should hear how they are sharing with their parents on the positive experience you brought to them. I love the book club group!" -Kara Youngblutt, Hillcrest Facilitator