Roosevelt University professor Margaret Policastro had one vision in mind when she established the school's summer reading clinic at its Schaumburg campus: she wanted to make reading "joyful" so children would become lifelong readers.
The clinic wrapped up its 30th year this month, and its balanced literacy approach continues to inspire students and parents alike.
This summer's 35 students ranged in age from preschool through high school, consequently they broke into groups based on their ages and ability, with older students reading novels and nonfiction.
Policastro established the clinic as a practicum for teachers earning their graduate degree to become reading specialists. Graduate students still teach in the clinic, and consequently, it showcases best practices in literacy.
One of its success stories is Kristen Iverson, 18, of Mount Prospect, who returned the last two summers to volunteer at the clinic. She and her twin sister, Dana, attended the reading clinic from first through fourth grades.
Kristen said she remembers learning to love reading after a read-aloud session, when they read a book about cultures and proceeded to make one of the dishes described in the book. Another time, the group built a castle after reading about one in a book.
"It was so fun and interactive," she said. "I know we were working on reading, but it didn't feel like school."
That was the intent from the start, said Policastro, who wanted to establish a clinic that improved reading skills without all the constraints a school faces, such as high-stakes assessment tests and large student-to-teacher ratios.
Instead, she placed its emphasis on making reading fun and interactive. On a tour of the clinic, the energy and excitement was palpable.
Poster boards hung outside each classroom were filled with research students had compiled after reading interesting books. One group of students worked to create self-portraits, after writing their bio-poems about themselves, while another group assigned roles from the book that each student will read aloud during a dramatic reading of the book they had just finished.
Parent Anjali Ahuja of Schaumburg, whose two children attended the clinic, said she loved the program and wished it extended longer than its five weeks.
She pointed to the improvements she saw in both children, including an increased vocabulary in her 4-year-old daughter and a love of learning instilled in her 8-year-old son.
"He's just blossomed," Ahuja said. "He always loved to read, but now he's enjoying writing and learning about the structure of writing."
Each day, teachers and students follow a balanced literacy routine. It starts with interactive read-aloud sessions, where each student holds a white board in order to draw pictures, answer questions or make suggestions for the next part of the story.
Next, they move into guided reading time, where teachers work with one or two children at a time, while the rest of the group moves from learning centers -- where they complete research and narrative writing projects -- to independent reading.
The routine always ends with another read-aloud session, which is the cornerstone of the program.
Kristen Inerson said she returned to the clinic to give back to the place that had made such a difference in the lives of her and her sister. This fall, she will attend the University of Chicago, while her twin will attend Princeton University.
"This is where we learned to love learning," Kristen said, "and value literacy."