ROAR celebrates 17 years

By Allison Krecek

DeKalb | Reaching Out Through Arts and Reading is encouraging students of all majors to get involved as it celebrates its 17th anniversary.

The program has helped children kindergarten through fifth grade improve their reading and vocabulary skills. ROAR started 17 years ago by the Art Department as the Chicago Experience. Undergraduate art education students went to schools in Chicago and taught students art techniques. Intrigued by the idea, literacy education professor Chris Carger became involved.

“I asked them if I could join them and bring children’s literature and if we could connect the art projects to the children’s literature. And they agreed and that’s how it all started,” Carger said.

When the art professor coordinating the program retired, Carger adopted ROAR into the literacy education department. While the original focus of ROAR had been on art with the adage of literature, Carger reversed that.

“My area is children’s literature and bilingual education, so I decided to blend those two areas together and use children’s literature to develop vocabulary and reading for bilingual children,”

Carger said. “[NIU] is the only school that I know of that has a program like this.”

Students in ROAR visit DeKalb elementary schools once a week and create lessons to teach the students. A student reads a picture book to the elementary students before they are broken off into smaller groups where they play vocabulary games to help further their understanding of the words. They finish off with an art project, combining the

use of their new knowledge with a creative edge.

Bobbi Stears, second grade bilingual teacher at Cortland Elementary School, has Carger and NIU students come to her classroom to fulfill the students requirement of English language arts.

“[ROAR] is helpful because I am teaching the units in Spanish so that when the students learn about the same ideas in English, they already have the background knowledge in their native language,” Stears said.

Stears is also pleased at the way ROAR is presented to her students and how it has progressed their understanding of the English language.

“I really appreciate the level of learning that is expected from my students. A lot of times we expect bilingual learners to learn the minimum in their second language in order that they are able to communicate with others,” Stears said. “With this program, the students are held to higher expectations and are learning high-level vocabulary that usually is reserved for native speakers.”

Diana Alday, junior Spanish and English language learning major, is glad to be one of the volunteers of ROAR. She heard about the program during her job as a tutor; while she initially had some misconceptions about the class, she does not regret signing up.

“[The class] was actually where you work with students, with kids at the elementary level. And ever since then I’ve loved it … and since I’m a double major, Spanish and English language learning, it really helped me,” Alday said.

Carger encourages any student who is interested in working with children or helping the community to sign up for the class. Alday found her experience with ROAR helpful and rewarding, and she thinks any student who joins the class will learn much from it.

“How many other classes can you take, if you’re not an education major, where you can actually say, ‘I’ve made an impact on a child’s

life’? You see the benefits, and I think it’s a win-win on both sides,” Alday said.