Chase Sieradski sat down at his table, clasping a book and some crayons and waiting patiently for the kids to enter the classroom. On this crisp fall afternoon, Sieradski had been attending Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School’s second grade reading class for four weeks, getting to know his student, a rambunctious kid who liked drawing. As the kids came into the classroom and settled in, Sieradski patiently focused his student’s attention on the book of the week, “Fly Guy” by Tedd Arnold. It was in reading that his mentee asked a question and Sieradski saw the first spark of interest, a glimmering moment where Sieradski could appreciate the impact that his service could have in the life of another.

Meanwhile, Adam Sherwood-McGrew, a senior marketing major aspiring to be a teacher, prepared to give a presentation to
his classmates on campus about his reading life, where he would talk about his passion for reading everything from periodicals to novels—but especially fiction. A self-described Hemingway fan, Sherwood-McGrew talked about “The Sun Also Rises”, one of Hemingway’s greatest novels that he was reading at the time. Both Sieradski and Sherwood-McGrew, members of the Honors College Elementary Reading class under the direction of Andrea Poole, shared a love of reading that they wanted to pass along to others. But the two had different paths to the same class focusing on child literacy. Sieradski, a computer science major, grew up the oldest of his family with multiple younger cousins in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. His love of children and their fun spirit led him to enroll in a class designed to mentor children in need of help in the classroom, especially in reading. Upon entering the class, he found that he could help kids and have fun at the same time. Sherwood-McGrew’s passion for literacy inspired him to work with kids. He found the most enjoyment when standing in front of a group of children in the second-grade class and reading to them. “I enjoyed engaging the students in discussion and comprehension of what was read, and afterwards seeing them get excited about telling different aspects of the story,” he said. It is in these ideas of helping children through education and mentoring that Poole, a graduate of the university and director of the class for the past five years, has dedicated her life. As both a private and public school teacher, Poole saw the impact that education has in the lives of children, especially those who contend with a difficult familial or financial situation. “Through my years, I’ve seen children struggle and fall behind in primarily reading,” Poole said, adding that the efforts of her students not only help in reading but also in “having a good role model and friend, in having a conversation.”

Poole focuses her efforts on helping children comprehend literature and discover a passion for reading, and her class delves into the factors that affect children’s literacy. Students in the class research these influences, such as public school funding, wealth inequality, and food insecurity, to get a better understanding of the problems facing disadvantaged kids across Alabama and the nation.

UH 105 Elementary Reading consists of a lecture section and service section. The lecture features presentations by each of the college students to describe reading in their lives. The service portion meets at both Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary in Tuscaloosa, and Francis Marion School in Perry County. Mentors in the class read to their second-grade mentee, who then manipulates the story by retelling it, continuing the story, or participating in an activity such as drawing the story.

A common theme from both Poole and her students is the rewarding nature of the class. The program has changed the lives of those involved, both mentor and mentee.

“It’s made me more patient,” Sieradski said. Sherwood-McGrew commented that the class “has made me more aware of why it is important to instill excitement and interest in reading at an early age because it’s so crucial, not only in elementary school to succeed in other subject areas, but also throughout a kid’s academic career.”

The epigraph to “The Sun Also Rises” quotes Ecclesiastes: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever.” Hemingway’s novel, behind the despair of life after World War I, gave hope to a boundless optimism for the next generation. In a way, behind the poor conditions that some students in America face, there is the hope that by teaching both elementary and college students the fundamentals of education and the joys of reading, we ensure that future generations can grow and prosper. The students of Elementary Reading serve to build that future, one kid at a time, one question at a time, with a book and a handful of crayons.