Tuesday, November 15, 2005

An Aunty's Activity For Developing The Reading Habit

Aunty Ti: Driving children to read

Paul Clarke

Theita 'Aunty Ti' Cox, who runs a reading/pick-up service for children in Kingston.

On any given Friday, Theita Cox, 'Aunty Ti' to almost everyone who knows her, can be found fussing over a gaggle of children at the Kingston and St Andrew Library, much like the proverbial Mother Goose, but with a friendly smile and dressed in bright African prints.

But she's not a schoolteacher, or a librarian, and those aren't all her kids. She's their shuttle driver, who picks them up from their various schools and takes them home for parents who can't manage to do so themselves.

And yet, to say Aunty Ti is merely a shuttle driver really doesn't paint a complete picture of what she actually does. She's not sure if there's a name for it yet, but it involves lots of caring, an occasional disciplining tone and spending time with the children, putting in the critical attention to the out-of-class education that parents are responsible for. That's in addition to shuttling them to and from school.

"My focus is not on pick-up. Yes, I need the money, but my aim is more to get the children to develop the right attitude toward reading. I use the pick-up service to generate the funds required to keep this programme running, because children must see reading as a habit, a real good one," Aunty Ti explains.

At about noon each weekday, Aunty Ti sets out in her white mini-van to pick up her charges from their various preparatory and primary schools. For a small daily fee per child, she criss-crosses virtually the entire city of Kingston to get about nine children safely home from school. During the week, she helps those who need it with their homework, but Friday is Library Day, attracting almost double her regular number of wards.

"Some of the children only utilise the service for the reading programme, so that is good. The work is so much that my nephew helps me out on Fridays," she says.

On Fridays, she makes the regular rounds, and when she has all her kids together, they all head to the library for about an hour devoted just to reading. That's just enough time the average primary school-age child can pay attention to any one task, so to keep it fun, Aunty Ti keeps it simple.

"Friday is also the end of the week, so after (visiting the library) we let them have a bit of fun. We play games or take them to the park, or even have a treat for them. They love this sort of thing, and it encourages them to read, because if they don't, then they know there won't be any treat for them," explains Cox.

The children love it, she says, and it's also personally rewarding, since over the course of a school term she can even see them develop an interest in selecting their own reading.

"I really love what I am able to do with these children. And they too enjoy the activities we plan for them. I think when children get this type of opportunity to learn, they grasp things quickly. We sometimes forget that children learn best in stress-free environments, and so that's what I provide to assist with the education process."

Aunty Ti first got the idea to begin a shuttle service after her own daughter was born, a time when she was out of a job during the meltdown of the financial sector in the mid-nineties.

"When my job disappeared, I thought up all kinds of things. I began looking at things I could do, because as my mother puts it, everyone should have their own little income. I also began to spend a lot of time reading. Then I began thinking about how much children need to read, and how little they were actually reading, so I began thinking of how I could do something about that."

Originally, the idea was to run a regular reading programme - which she actually started at a basic school in west Kingston - but without a day job or sponsorship, her impact was limited. Then one day, after collecting her own child from St Cecilia Prep, it occurred to her that if she charged other parents a fee to collect their children and take them with her daughter on their regular trips to the library, she could achieve the same goal, albeit on a reduced scale.

"I knew I needed to spend real quality time with my daughter, and that other parents, who had to work 9-5 for instance, couldn't. If you love children, you want to see them learn, not only in terms of what they do at school, but also what you as a responsible adult are able to impart to them," says Cox.

And that involves more than just supervising them. Cox says she's proud of her relationship with her daughter, ("I am always in touch with what goes on in her life") and of how she's extended that to her charges.

"I am very proud of what I've been able to do for her, and for the other children. I think that the community should play its part in the upbringing of children, as it was in days gone by. I think it makes a huge difference in the lives of these children when an adult - more so a parent - shows great interest in their lives and activities," she added.And that's exactly what she does.

Theita Cox, however, has even greater aspirations."Ultimately I want to see this service help other people gain employment. Other women out there are providing a similar pick-up service, but few have brought in an educational component that I have.

"The dream that I have for this venture is for it to grow, become even more formal, and more organised. If I can get sponsorship, or an investor, maybe I can buy a new bus, so I can double the numbers I pick up. That would consolidate the whole operation. That is the dream I have."


Today's Quote:

A college education never hurt anybody who was willing to learn after he got it.

In the old days students went to college to get an education from the professors, but now it seems like some students think they ought to educate the professors.


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