Name: Carmani Edwards
From: Chicago, IL
School: Whitney M Young Magnet High School
Saturday morning. Right on cue, the alarm on my phone starts to
chirp, each ring increasing in volume as the minutes pass. I groggily
reach over and swipe “off” on the dimly lit screen. Within an
hour I am showered and dressed. My breakfast is usually to-go; I’m
scarfing down cheesy scrambled eggs as I hurry out the door, en route
to Harvard Elementary School.
program is Read-To-Me. Once a month during the school year, myself
and a handful of other teens head down to the school to host a youth
literacy program for K through 5th graders. I was the unofficial
second-in-command to the director, responsible for directing set-up,
managing the schedule, and rotating activities. From 9:30am to 1pm,
there was always something different going on. We helped the kids
make and keep journals; conduct science experiments; write and
perform plays; play word games; make cards for Christmas; give
speeches for Martin Luther King Day, etc. And every month there was
reading hour, of course.
I kind of stumbled into this work. At the start of my junior year, my
counselor thought I needed more volunteer hours and suggested this
program. My mother, a teacher herself, thought that working with kids
would be a great project. I wasn’t too keen on giving up my
Saturday mornings, and it was difficult for us few teens to keep a
group of little kids entertained for four or five hours, figuring out
when to give individual attention and how to wrangle them together
for group projects. But at the end of the year, we got a call from
the principal. The reading and math scores of the kids who had
attended the program increased considerably, and he’d like to
continue the program into the next year. Hearing that, I was very
pleasantly surprised. It’d never crossed my mind that we weren’t
just babysitting these kids; we were actually impacting their
education, and the test results were tangible evidence of that.
Hearing that was a huge point of validation for me; it meant that
this work was meaningful.
following year, the kids nearly bowled me over in greeting at the
first session. Managing the program did get easier, but they always
kept us on our toes.
learned that, as a child, nothing is inconsequential. Pretty much
everything you experience will have a palpable impact on your life.
That’s why it’s so important to have robust, diverse, and
numerous children’s programs that are accessible to everyone. Now,
my intended career path as a jazz musician is a little different than
Read-To-Me. However the arts are just as impactful and just as
important to becoming a fully-rounded student and person. Music
drastically changed my life and career path when I discovered it, and
I want younger kids’ lives to be enriched by the arts in the same
way they were enriched by reading.