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HAND Work-Study Program Aims To Promote Elementary Literacy

By Noah Oppenheim

The House and Neighborhood Development Program (HAND) launched a federally-funded effort yesterday that will pay Harvard work-study students to read to children in local elementary schools in hopes of promoting literacy.

The new program was announced at the HAND program's spring training conference held at Eliot House this weekend and comes in response to America's Reading Challenge, a program proposed by President Clinton to help increase rates of literacy nation-wide.

Beginning this semester, work-study tutors will undergo basic training in the fundamentals of reading instruction for children in a program called HAND Readers. Volunteers who are not on work-study can also get the training.

Once prepared, the students will spend up to eight hours per week working with small groups of children in Cambridge elementary schools.

Each month, volunteers will meet to discuss exercise themes for the coming weeks.

"The goal of the program is to teach kids to love to read," said Jessica G. Steigerwald '90, HAND's administrator.

Tutors will also help children develop library skills and build their vocabulary.

Steigerwald said she hopes that the unique nature of this program will attract participants who ordinarily forgo community service because they need a paying job.

The size of the program will depend largely on student interest, but funding should not be a problem, according to Steigerwald.

HAND Readers is being facilitated by the Cambridge School Volunteers (CSV), a community-wide agency which serves as a bridge between HAND and the various district learning centers.

Heidi Ramirez, a representative of CSV, said she is excited about the new program.

According to Ramirez, the new focus on reading will "improve an already great relationship" between HAND and the Cambridge public schools.

HAND's relationship with Cambridge schools began in 1982, and ever since then, Harvard students have been serving as tutors and mentors to young Cantabrigians.

Mandy Bigelow '97, a resident of Eliot House who has been working with HAND since her sophomore year at Harvard, said she views literacy instruction as an essential step in helping young people to achieve success.

"Much of the tutor's role is to teach these kids how to study. They need to learn how to read so they can study history or algebra," Bigelow said.

The success of the program will be evaluated at the end of the semester.

Organizers are confident that the results for both tutors and students will be positive.

"One of the best things about HAND is that these kids think college kids are cool," Steigerwald said. "And, if [college kids] think reading is cool, then maybe it's not so bad."

Students who would like to participate in HAND Readers should contact the HAND student board representative in their house or the HAND office.

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