By Katie Simet – Ever wonder how far a single high five, “well-done,” or “nice job” can go with a child?
Just ask the school children in the area who team up with Marquette’s Family Literacy Project.
The Family Literacy Project, operated through the Hartman Literacy and Learning Center and directed by Dr. Kathleen Clark in the College of Education, supports approximately 50 area children each semester by busing them to Marquette’s campus for weekly lessons in reading and math.
While visiting the participating schools last week to do some pre-assessment for the spring term, I had the pleasure of walking and talking briefly with students. It is here in these precious few moments that I was able to ask, “How is your day?” and “What are you learning?” From there I usually introduce myself, explaining that I am there with Marquette University at which points their eyes immediately light up with excitement: the dream of attending Marquette one day is a common one for these youngsters and the anticipation of visiting again next semester is irresistible. After another inspiring visit to the schools this past week, I couldn’t help but feel proud to be part of such an impactful program that really makes a difference in the lives of students.
What the players and Marquette pre-service teachers don’t know is how much bearing an incentive trip to the Al McGuire Center had on these youngsters. While the students sat in the middle of the court, the players talked about their own experiences in school, the important role reading has played in their collegiate academic career, engaged in a question and answer session, and then assisted the kids in a game of knock-out.
With a little boost from the players to make them tall enough, every student shot a basket on the same court in Kasten Gymnasium where the players practice day in and day out. It was a day they would never forget. Three months later, when I asked the students what they liked about the Marquette program their responses were telling. There were certainly predictable answers such as, I loved the books, my teacher was nice, and I learned a lot, but there were also a few comments that stood out.
“I liked the day we met the basketball players! I had never met anybody famous before or got a high five from them.”
or “Remember when that one guy [Jamil Wilson] told us he liked Winn Dixie? I went and read that book.”
One comment that especially set apart from the rest came from a female student at Hartford Elementary. She said, “The day I won the trophy when we played basketball,” (by trophy she really meant blue and gold basketball that she was able to keep).
I couldn’t help but think to myself, in a Jesuit reflective way, “Wow—in her eyes, meeting the players and winning the basketball was equivalent to winning a trophy”.
The motivation to keep reading, attend class, and log hours of reading at home are all factors that contribute to the success of the Hartman Literacy Center. The Center also allows Marquette pre-service teachers an opportunity to build skills that will help children in their daily quest to be academically successful both now and in the future. That November day was just one moment and memory for the kids visiting Marquette, but it inspired them to keep thinking about attending college, remaining committed to their education, and reading books that inspire, per Jamil Wilson’s recommendation!
As the students left that day the players stood at the door and gave them each a high-five: a gesture they would remember for a long time to come.
As one student put it in his note to the team, “Thank you for the greatest time of my life, from your pal Joseph”.
Katie Simet (Arts ’06) graduated from Marquette with majors in elementary education and psychology. After teaching in a Milwaukee charter school she pursued her master’s degree in higher education from Seattle University. Currently, Katie works as a Learning Specialist in the Marquette Athletics Department. As a College of Education alum, she is often recruited to help do some of the pre-semester testing for the students who will be attending the Hartman Literacy Program.