Contemplating Child Literacy in Cherry Hill

Elaine MacDougall is a lecturer in English at UMBC.

Elaine MacDougallOn Friday, September 19th, three UMBC students and I experienced our first day of tutoring through a partnership with Reading Partners and Friendship Academy at Cherry Hill. As we journeyed around the loop surrounding the UMBC campus toward the exit ramp to 95, the students were quietly contemplating some questions related to their expectations of this experience. I was slowly taking them out of their comfort zone of the self-contained campus and into the unknown of a new neighborhood, new people, and new responsibilities. I was struck with how thoughtful the atmosphere in the car became and remained until we got closer to our destination.

Thoughtfulness and contemplation are hard to find in our fast-paced world of task-upon-task. All three of these students actually had their first chemistry test of the semester immediately upon our return from Cherry Hill that day. Yet, I noticed their concentration on this current task I had given them with admiration and respect for their willingness to explore and serve others on this beautiful Friday afternoon.

This partnership is possible thanks to a grant through BreakingGround and a strong collaboration with enthusiastic volunteer and site coordinators from Reading Partners. Several students from my English 100 classes and students recruited from UMBC’s day of service in August are participating in this project to study literacy rates in Baltimore City elementary schools. In the first few weeks of the project, UMBC students are tutoring elementary-aged students, who are currently reading below grade level, using the in-depth curriculum designed by Reading Partners. Later in the semester, we will meet with parents at Friendship Academy for a ‘meet and greet’ dinner and orientation session. Near the end of the semester, students will meet with parents in the community to research habits and routines at home that impact child literacy. One of the research questions we hope to address is: What home factors influence the ability for a student to read each night for 15 minutes and what can be done to improve the frequency of such reading?

It is always interesting to reflect on a goal at the beginning of a project. We know the distance between UMBC and Cherry Hill. Hopefully our communities will slowly build a sense of trust that brings us closer to recognizing just how similar we are.

Contact the author, Elaine MacDougall, at


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