For many children, reading books can be uninteresting. But in a city where the illiteracy rate once reportedly hovered close to 50 per- cent, learning how to read from Mom and Dad could be a challenge. In 2004, with Detroit’s illiteracy rate in mind, Ola Ivery, wife of Wayne County Community College District Chancellor Dr. Curtis Ivery, decided to take action.
She established the Bookworm Club, a reading program at WCCCD for children 3 to 7. “I wanted to teach children the importance of reading at the earliest stage of learning, and how exciting it is,” Ivery said. She and her husband believe they share a generational responsibility to make reading accessible to every- one. “Literacy is a prerequisite to education,” Ivery said.
“It’s key to a person lifting themselves up in life and going on to get a good job.” Ivery and an average of five to seven volunteers run the yearlong program every three months on the first Saturday of the month. But there is more to the club than just reading books. The Bookworm Club ties song, dance and word games in with story time, and a giant bookworm mascot leads activities at the club meetings.
“Two of the events involve learning how to read maps and music. The idea was to provide a well-rounded definition of literacy, and to introduce children to a broader world of learning,” Ivery said. Although the program welcomes all children, it was designed for children who don’t yet know how to read.
“Providing positive experiences and associations with reading and learning at this stage is intended to create a life- long love and appreciation for reading and education,” Ivery said. The club aims to “stoke the natural curiosity every child has to learn about the world around them,” she said. “The District’s overall mission is to pro- vide a better life through learning.” Since Feb. 2004, the Bookworm Club has grown. Once concentrated at the downtown Detroit campus, it now has clubs at each of WCCCD’s five Southeast Michigan campuses.
More than 1,000 children have come through the Bookworm Club. Ivery said that al- though it’s important to get kids excited about reading here in Southeast Michigan because of the region’s illiteracy rates, it’s also important for kids anywhere. “There is a lot of com- petition for children’s attention, from video games to television to packed extracurricular schedules,” she said. “We think it’s vital for children to learn that literacy is the starting point of nearly any place they want to go in life and in the world.”
While the children are participating in the pro- gram, the first thing Ivery notices is “the light in the children’s eyes.” “They are engaged, they’re interested, and they are excited about what they are seeing and learning,” she said. But it’s not only the children that have this experience. “We see real joy on the parents’ faces as they watch their children learning something new. It’s a family event, and tremendously gratifying and exciting to watch.”
This article originally appeared in the October issue of BLAC magazine. Ola Ivery is a scholar, educator, mentor and loving wife who can be best described in what Langston Hughes calls “a talented woman.” She came to Detroit from Dallas, Texas, and found her niche at WCCCD where she has developed outreach programs that encourage intellectual development and growth through reading.