Picture a group of guys from UWI and what comes to mind? A study session? A rowdy football match? A group of students from UWI's Taylor Hall Butchers Block B is creating a whole new image. They've organized weekly reading sessions with children at the Hermitage Basic School in August Town.
The "uncles", as the children call them, got involved when Rondeen McLean of the Literary Genius Foundation approached UWI for volunteers. McLean runs a similar programme at the Shalom Basic School in August Town with employees from Sagicor. Maurice Wallace, 21, External Affairs Chairman for Butchers Block B, heard about McLean's appeal and organized his blockmates.
The group now goes to Hermitage every Thursday for an hour and has grown to 15 uncles per week, which allows for group readings and one-on-one reading at each child's pace and reading level.
The Early Childhood Commission (ECC) strongly encourages such volunteer reading activities. Many basic school students are not being read to at home, which makes it harder for them to learn to read and write. Larger class sizes also make it difficult for teachers to give one on one reading time. In addition to what they learn from the stories, reading to young children helps them learn to read, builds their vocabularies and improves their ability to focus. It builds their listening, thinking and communication skills and fosters a love of reading.
The ECC's guidelines for such volunteer programmes ensure the children's safety -- visits are scheduled with the principal, all readings take place in the presence of a teacher or principals and records are kept.
"We get a lot out of it," says Wallace. "The children look forward to us coming. At first their attention spans were very short, but it's improved a lot. When you can see that you're making a difference, it's cool. Plus when they say, 'Uncle, you coming to read to me next week?, how can you say no?"