Capstone Drives Home Value of Literacy

Thanks to the work of a Senior Capstone group and generosity of the CJ community, teachers at one local elementary school now have expanded options when it comes to providing valuable learning tools to their students.

The four group members, Mackenzie Boyer, Mariah Harlow, Leighanne Schwab and Rachel Rogers, focused their research on the life-long consequences of child poverty. Their project culminated in a book drive, held during the week of March 17-21, to benefit Ruskin Elementary in Dayton. The girls hope the drive will work to combat child illiteracy, a challenge that often accompanies child poverty, Harlow said.

“We were playing around with a lot of topics,” Harlow said. “Based on our interests from our junior year service projects, we started looking at poverty, and we decided to narrow it down to focus on children. We considered where they go after school, what they have or don’t have, and what materials they may need.”

Ruskin Elementary, which also collaborates with CJ through the school's Little Sibs program, enrolls many students who are at or below the poverty line, project mentor Erin Ketch said.

The book drive specifically benefited K-3 students, and each English class at CJ was provided a box where students could donate their new or gently used books. As an incentive, students who donated three or more books were entered into a drawing for a Chipotle gift card.

To date, the Senior Capstone group has already collected at least 420 books and, although the drive was intended to end March 21, they expect more books on the way.

Ketch, who is also an English teacher at CJ, reflected on the importance of child literacy and the impact that these donations could have.

“I see the importance of early literacy skills,” she said. “Research has shown time and again how important early reading and writing skills are for young children, and the sooner these skills are nurtured and developed, the better.”

The Capstone students had exposure to conditionsof poverty prior to their project, which was the gateway to exploring this issue further. Boyer is a part of the Little Sibs program and connected with Ruskin to plan the book drive, while Harlow considered her experience in volunteering for Urban Plunge as motivation.

“As part of Urban Plunge, we stayed at St. Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati and did service work for a weekend,” Harlow said. “Through that I got another eye for poverty, and that helped me put things in perspective for this project.”

The group’s research, their prior exposure to the realities of poverty, and their commitment to their cause leaves Ketch hopeful for the ultimate success for the book drive, she said.

“These students are all excellent readers and writers, and I believe that they see how literacy in their early lives has impacted them as high school students,” she said. “Their desire to give back to their community reflects this. It is our hope these books provide continual reading opportunities for the Ruskin students both at school and at home.”

The books will be delivered to Ruskin Elementary upon conclusion of the drive, and will be used according to their current needs, Ketch said.