GUEST BLOGGER: SUSAN HERRIOTT – COOL BOYS READ!

After participating in our local library’s summer reading program for a few years, I could see my son’s interest waning. He was outgrowing the little trinkets offered as incentives, and he wasn’t really enjoying the end-of-program parties. At the last party we attended, I glanced around the room hoping to find some of his friends. None were there. I also noticed that the number of black children in attendance was slim. The racial makeup of the party was definitely not an issue for my son, but it troubled me. I felt a little lonely, and I was disheartened that the few black kids I saw there were mostly girls. Where were the black boys?

I felt determined to keep my son reading during the summer; but I wanted him to have fun in the process, and I didn’t want his participation in the library program to be an isolating experience for either of us. We sat on the couch talking about our experience at the party and trying to figure out what could make the summer reading program better for us. Together we decided to invite some of his friends to join the program the next summer, but we also decided that we would have our own party at the end. During that conversation, the Cool Boys Read® Summer Enrichment Program was born.

After the first year, we developed our own program with reading contests and group meetings. Group activities vary, reflecting the ideas and interests of the boys and their group leaders. Our members have participated in a spelling bee, put on a backyard play, written rap lyrics based on vocabulary words, and produced a short film. The boys really enjoy getting together with their friends over the summer. They have fun during the meetings, but they most enjoy the time they spend playing together when the meetings end. They are kids, after all!

For the boys, a highlight of the program is our annual awards ceremony and party. Each boy’s efforts are celebrated, and the winners of the reading contests win special awards—medals and trophies—just like the ones they accumulate and cherish from their participation in sports. Like the crowds cheering when kids score at their games, a crowd of supporters cheer on the boys as their summer reading achievements are announced.

Our members also get an authentic publishing experience. The boys submit stories, review the edited versions, and then review page proofs before publication of our annual anthology. When the book is released in the fall, we celebrate at an official book launch. A few boys read their stories and all the authors sign copies of the book for family and friends attending the celebration.

The Cool Boys Read® Summer Enrichment Program is built on the belief that our boys are as bright and as capable as other children are. We focus on fun, academic-based activities to tap into the boys’ innate interest in learning. We’re excited about the amount of reading the boys do in the summer, but our greatest success can’t be counted or measured. It can only be detected in the wide smiles on the boys’ faces when their efforts in reading and writing are publicly recognized and rewarded. It’s a tangible sign that we’ve inspired a sense of accomplishment and pride in academic achievement. Now how cool is that!

Susan Herriott is the Founder and Executive Director of Cool Boys Read, Inc., a non-profit organization that aims to promote reading, writing, and academic excellence in children, particularly African American and Latino boys. During the summer, she stays busy running Cool Boys Read® groups for her two sons. She is also the editor of the organization’s four children’s books, which are available athttp://www.lulu.com/spotlight/coolboysread. You can find Cool Boys Read, Inc. on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cool-Boys-Read-Inc/105549342876076.

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