Every Thursday night around 93 children sign onto one of three Zooms happening simultaneously to participate in a book club. This is a new addition to Club Compass, one of the programs under the umbrella of Compass for Kids.
In any other year, students in first through fifth grades would be meeting in person at five different school sites, but with the pandemic, Club Compass had to switch gears. The program now meets twice a week virtually. On Tuesday nights, there is a social emotional lesson, combined with an art project or an activity through EduMotion, such as dance moves from different countries.
On Thursday nights students join the book club with their appropriate group: K/1, 2/3, 4/5. Each group has a volunteer who reads a book to the participants.
Every child receives a copy of the book prior to the meeting. That has not been cheap and had not been in the original budget. Shelly Kinner, the program manager of Club Compass since 2019, explains how the club has been made possible: "Through fundraising and donations, we have been able to order books so that each student can get a book and read along. The kids are excited to have their own books." So far, that cost has been $10,000. "The turnout has been great," Kinner says. "Kids show up with their book in hand and some even sign on early to talk."
Sharon Telson, the mother of a second grader in the program, says her daughter "loves getting her own books which she calls her 'special books' that have the Compass sticker on them. The book club is helping my daughter with reading. I absolutely love the program. The teachers and volunteers are understanding and helpful. The program has been a blessing during COVID-19."
Amber Francis has two children in the program and says, "My children enjoy reading a new book each week, and the Tuesday night activities help with socialization."
Every Thursday night another citywide event takes place. Seventeen volunteers arrive at the Central Baptist Church where the office of Compass for Kids is located. They pack their cars with a backpack for each child in the Club Compass program and deliver to their homes. The backpack includes food for the weekend (two breakfasts, two lunches, two snacks and two dinners), plus enrichment kits (items needed for activities and projects) and the book for the following week. Everything is supplied. "If we are going to do a project that requires even one drop of glue, we include that," Kinner says.
Students in the program meet certain criteria. They must be in first through fifth grade, come from a low-income family, and have one other risk factor. That could be homelessness (which could mean staying with someone else), food insecurity, in foster care or being raised by a grandmother or other person, or having a parent who is incarcerated.
The kindergarten and first graders have so far read 19 books, with titles such as If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Can I Play Too? Students in second through fifth grades read longer books with chapters. The second and third graders have read 12 books, including The Mouse and the Motorcycle, while the fourth and fifth graders have read 9 books, including The One and Only Ivan.
Books are chosen through suggestions from teachers, volunteers and staff at Barnes and Noble. Many are selected for their themes of diversity.
Another offering under Compass for Kids is Camp Compass, a six-week, full-day summer program with reading and math instruction in the morning, followed by enrichment, field trips and fun activities in the afternoon. There is also Camp Care - A - Lot, which is a five-day, four-night overnight camp for those children who have finished fifth grade. With the pandemic, this was not possible to offer last summer. There is no decision yet about whether it will be offered this summer.
Compass for Kids was the brainchild of Molly Berendt in 2011. The program has grown and added more children who are in need. Berendt has been successful in seeking out grants, and funding from organizations and foundations such as United Way and the Women for Women arm of the Community Foundation. More is needed.
Donations and volunteers are always welcomed. To volunteer, contact Shelly Kinner at firstname.lastname@example.org. To donate send a check to Compass for Kids, 501 S. Fourth St., Springfield, IL 62701.
Cinda Ackerman Klickna has been impressed with the programs of Compass for Kids. For last week's Illinois Times, she wrote about Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which allows the children enrolled to gain a library collection they can call their own. The Camp Compass Book Club is a way for children in 1st-5th grades to continue to acquire books.