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This summer, I’ve had the privilege of working with our Boston community partner Raising A Reader Massachusetts (RAR-MA). RAR-MA is a non-profit organization that promotes early literacy through their mission to equip parents and caregivers with the tools to help children ages 0 to 6 be prepared to read before they even start kindergarten. Studies have shown that children who are not proficient readers by the third grade are 8 times more likely to drop out of high school. RAR-MA breaks the cycle by intervening in early stages of children’s lives, and I was happy to be a part of that.

Since my first day in the office, the other interns and I practiced our dialogic reading skills in preparation for the story times that RAR-MA would host throughout of the month of July. Dialogic reading, RAR-MA’s core strategy, is a distinct reading technique that turns story time into an interactive conversation. Finally, the time arrived, and I participated in the much-anticipated story time. Although I was not reading the book that day, simply aiding with parent sign in, the interactive activities, and snacks, I was still a little nervous about my first event. But as I stood on the front lawn of Chelsea City Hall, the first mother and her two young daughters arrived. The youngest one was lifted out of her stroller and waddled her way over towards me, the biggest smile on her face, her nose scrunched, curls blowing in the slight wind as she waved at me. That grin made any butterflies in my stomach fly away, and the rest of the story time was a breeze.

The city manager, the featured reader, read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a personal childhood favorite of mine. Later, we handed out crayons, glue, and paper plates for the kids to make their own hungry caterpillars, and finally as they were sprawled out on the blankets, I handed out boxes of raisins. One little girl would not let it slide that I ran out of the snacks in my hands just as it was her turn, and she chased me down as I hurried back to grab another from our supply box just for her. When I gave it to her, she babbled to me a thank you- or at least I assume it was- since she spoke in her own coded language, and her mother and I giggled at her triumphant march back to her seat. It was a good and successful time.

This event opened my eyes to the fruition of the office work we had done in the last month. One little girl was joined by her mother, siblings, family friends, and even her grandma. Most strikingly, everyone knew one another, including the librarian who was on hand. It was a true community. And Raising A Reader MA helped to bring them together by putting on an event and providing resources like free giveaway books for each child to take home and explore, an opportunity that many, myself included, take for granted. I was moved by the resolve of the mothers who brought their children. It couldn’t be easy to travel out at 9:30 in the morning with toddlers. One woman brought her little one who could not even walk or speak. Yet as the story was read to her, she was just as engaged as the eldest among them by the fun book. The commitment of these parents to provide these experiences for their children was inspiring.

Interacting with the kids, I was reminded of the moment I saw an image of one of the parent ambassadors’ child in a brochure. Her mother had utilized RAR-MA’s red bag system to read with her young daughter, and now she worked for the organization. She had told me about her daughter, and I caught a glimpse of an event she had mentioned in some RAR-MA literature. At the age of nine, long after she had graduated from the organization, her daughter was asked to give a speech. I got goosebumps when I saw her picture. She looked beautiful, presidential as she stood at the podium-confident and ready to conquer the world, and as her mother had proudly explained to me, she still had a passion for reading and learning even to this day. It was amazing to me that reading could have this much power to influence, and I saw that she had a bright future of opportunity to become anything she aspired to be.

As the story time ended and children waved their goodbyes, I was left with those feelings of wonder again. Each child had the potential to succeed. By placing a book in their hands, Raising A Reader MA was helping them reach that potential. It is one thing to comprehend this fact based on the evidence and research that I learned in the office, but another to see it first-hand. It added a layer of certainty to the impact we could make, even over a summer. I am pleased to be a part of the work that the organization is doing, and cannot wait for the next story time event.