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Ahern: Chicago Library’s summer program helps kids, adults

Mackenzie Felker 6 (sitting with pen hand) said she read about 20 books over summer as participant Chicago’s “Full Steam

Mackenzie Felker, 6, (sitting with pen in hand) said she read about 20 books over the summer as a participant in Chicago’s “Full Steam Ahead” reading incentive program. Felker is surrounded by volunteers in the program (from left) Photini Tejeda, 12, Daniel Caulfield, 13, Maura Gribble, 13, Kerstin Rafferty, 12, and Sotiria Tejeda, 14. | Supplied photo

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Updated: September 12, 2013 6:11AM



Those who think of libraries as stuffy old buildings with librarians who spend their days saying “shhh” should take a trip to a branch of the Chicago Public Library.

Librarians at the branches, including the Mount Greenwood library, spent this summer on a mission to encourage reading among children and adults throughout the city. But reading was not the only focus this summer. In a program known as “Full STEAM Ahead,” readers were encouraged to pursue topics represented by the acronym —science, technology, engineering, art and math.

There were many incentives to promote reading, such as pencil cases, gift certificates to restaurants or zoo passes, but the grand prize at each library was an ereader and a tablet. Children and adults were allowed to enter raffles for these items, and at Mount Greenwood, 400 participants read almost 6,000 books in a couple of months.

Jessica Jeffers, branch manager at the Mount Greenwood branch who has worked at the library for six years, and Jenny Brander, a 12-year employee, agreed on the success and importance of the program, given that over the summer children tend to lose ground in academics.

“Research has shown that there is a summer slide for students,” Brander said. “They tend to lose three months in reading skills, and the same thing happens in math and science, too. We’re not only promoting reading, but we’re getting all the subjects.”

“Children not only read, but they learned, created and discovered,” Jeffers said. “They were really proud of their creations, which we displayed in glass cabinets in the front windows here.”

The summer challenge also targeted adults with a variety of programs t libraries throughout the city. The Mount Greenwood Library sponsored a presentation showing how to make a garden without spending a fortune. The Beverly branch studied the art of neuroscience, and the Walker Library, also in the Beverly community, sponsored a Frank Lloyd Wright interior design workshop.

To help with all the programs, librarians called upon volunteers from neighborhood schools. At Mount Greenwood, several students answered the call. Photini Tejeda, 12, a home-schooled student, said she was happy that she volunteered for the program, her first year as a volunteer.

“I like working with little kids, and this was a nice way to interact with them.” Photini said.

Tejeda’s sister, Sotiria, 14, who is also home-schooled, agreed.

“This was a great and fun way to interact with the children and get to know them well. And it’s always good to help the community,” Sotiria, who is in her third year as a volunteer, said.

St. John Fisher School students Daniel Caulfield, 13, and Maura Gribble, 13, liked the experience of working as a volunteer.

“I always did the program when I was young,” Maura said. “I just thought it would be good to volunteer for it now.”

Brander said the program to encourage reading is something the library has sponsored for “years and years,” but this year’s STEAM, along with its incentives, seemed to revitalize the program.

“We have higher numbers than in the past,” she said. “There were many ways to learn, and kids could use an interactive website, for example, and test out projects and ideas. They used their own creativity to replicate projects, and if they got stuck, there was a live link to ask a scientist right there. They learned it was OK not to get things right.”

Chicago Public Library figures show that 60,232 children read more than 1.5 million books in the 30th annual summer reading program, which makes it the largest, citywide summer reading program in the United States.

“We feel energized by this re-imagined Summer Learning Challenge, and we can’t wait to see what next summer will bring,” Jeffers said.

The Mount Greenwood branch library is at 11010 Kedzie Ave., the Beverly branch is at 1962 W. 95th St., and Walker Library is at 11071 Hoyne Ave. For more information about neighborhood library programs, visit www.chipublib.org.



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