Healing the World with the Power of Reading

High school me had absolutely no idea that one day I would travel to San Fransisco, be put on ABC 7 news, and accept an award of $36,000 in front of a hundreds of people. All of this happened because I created the Rim High Literature Club in 2014. When I started the project with three of my closest friends, the only goal was to encourage children to read more. Reading is a crucial step in developing a solid education. The commonality between every set of directions, every test, every assigned book, every college application, every job resume, is that they all require some amount of reading.

Reading isn’t an innate skill like breathing. Reading takes hard work and dedication. When young kids start the learning process, it can feel like they’re treading water. Dipping their toes in at the shallow end, starting slowly with the alphabet and working towards full sentences. Some kids may have great luck and be able to advance on to reading books and swim to the deep end. But for others, reading can be the biggest struggle of their young lives and they spend years trapped at one end of the pool, separated from their peers. Who’s there to help those kids? No one. They might not be as lucky as I was to have parents and older siblings help out with homework. They might even have learning disabilities that further inhibit the reading process. These kids slip through the cracks and go unnoticed in the education system and lose motivation to pursue a higher education. There’s no easy solution to this problem, which is why I founded the Rim High Literature Club.

The Project

The club, which started in October of 2014, unites high school teens with local elementary students to work in both one-on-one and group scenarios to assist students of all reading capabilities. In the one-on-one lesson, an elementary student is paired with a high schooler and together they read through a book of the child’s choosing. This close interaction allows the high school mentor to identify and fix problem areas within the child’s reading. In the group activity, there are four elementary students paired with one high schooler. Each child is responsible for reading and reciting a stanza with their group from a fun grade-level appropriate poem. By mixing these two interactive and developmental activities together, the kids get to improve their reading skills while having fun with friends.

Working hard to see my vision come to a reality was incredible. Not only did I get to see all the smiling elementary schoolers progress in their reading abilities, but I was also able to see my friends mature. There’s something about giving someone a sense of responsibility that forces them to rise to the occasion. Every reading mentor was a high school volunteer between the age of 14 and 19. These high schoolers weren’t only the valedictorians and A+ students; they were kids who can be seen in detention or at parties on the weekends. But it didn’t matter who they were on the weekends, because when they came to a reading day, they transformed into a mentor and a role model to a child, and they took that responsibility to heart. The Rim High Literature Club is centered around kids helping kids, which is something I was able to see reiterated at the awards weekend hosted by Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards.

The Awards

On August 20th, just seven days after I moved into my college dorm room, I flew up to San Fransisco for a weekend of, well I wasn’t quite sure what was happening that weekend. Part of me was convinced I was being punked and didn’t actually win a scholarship. That wasn’t the case by any means. I arrived at the hotel an hour late due to a flight delay and was freaking out the entire Uber ride over from the airport, thinking I had caused a horrible problem in the logistical details for the organization directors. I walked into the meeting room, expecting a room full of people wearing expensive ‘dry-clean only’ grey suits and holding briefcases. Instead, I was warmly welcomed by teenagers in blue jeans and a table full of soft drinks.

On the first day, we played ‘ice-breaker’ games to get to know each other and loosen up. It was crazy how comforting it was to just run around a room with shoes off. I think ‘comforting’ is the word I would choose to describe the entire weekend. It was comforting to be around fellow jewish teens who wanted to make a change in the world, comforting to talk about all the challenges we faced whilst building our projects, and comforting to have people openly listen to me talk about something I passionately dedicated two years of my life to creating.

The activities we participated in as a group led to deep moral reflections on topics like jewish values, empathy vs. sympathy and what the essence of Tikkun Olam really means in a contemporary world. One of my favorite things about the awards weekend was how we were treated. When I was trying to get my project started as a 16 year old, so many people told me it would never work. I would go to meetings dressed in a blazer and slacks with a project proposal and people would tell me to stop pretending to be an adult. Not once during the weekend did this happen. Even at a fancy dinner party where horderves were served as a main meal did someone tell me to stop mingling with adults. Mingling was encouraged! Handing out business cards was encouraged! We were encouraged to think larger than ourselves and none of us were stifled by age restrictions. When someone is trying to make a difference it doesn’t matter if they are entering high school or starting their freshman year in college, like me. All that matters is how they help the world.

What happens next...?

Currently, I am a Freshman in the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University studying Drawing and Painting. I am still remotely overseeing the Rim High Literature Club, which functions out of Lake Arrowhead California, but I am allowing a new board of high school student leadership to run the program. While the Literature Club is focusing on expanding to a broader tutoring program including math and science, I am working on creating similar Clubs in high schools around the local Phoenix area. One day, I want to see every high school in the nation with a program like the Rim High Literature Club so students can receive the help they need to be successful in school.

If there is anyone interested in contributing to the Rim High Literature Club, please contact me at laurielleschwab@yahoo.com

-Laurielle Schwab

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