SRU’s ‘Books for Dilworth’ encourages literacy among elementary school children


Books that are part of the program

March 18, 2021

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Through Slippery Rock University's Leadership, Advocacy and Program Development course, students in the SRU College of Education are hosting "Books for Dilworth," a series of book club meetings via Zoom for students and parents at Dilworth Elementary School in Pittsburgh. The program is designed to encourage literacy and foster "a love for learning at home."

Each semester, Sara Tours, an SRU assistant professor of elementary and early childhood education, teaches the Leadership, Advocacy and Program Development class, which prepares teacher candidates, who will be teaching children pre-K-4, on the design, development and evaluation of early childhood programs.

"The purpose of the course is to teach us the importance of self-advocacy, and more specifically, how to be an advocate for ourselves and our students once we become teachers," said Jenna Simpson, a senior early childhood and special education major from Arlington Heights, Illinois, and one of the fundraising coordinators of the Books for Dilworth project.

One of the objectives of the course is to participate in a service-learning project to put program development and evaluation to practice.

After connecting with Monica Lamar, principal of Dilworth, and Cynthia Patterson, an elementary school teacher at the school, Tours brainstormed how Dilworth would benefit the most from SRU's programming.

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As a Title One school, or a school with a large, low-income student population, Lamar and Patterson hoped to introduce something interactive that could also be done at home. Tours, Lamar and Patterson would go on to introduce a service-learning project related to "book nights" where children and their parents are able to discuss the contents of pre-selected novels focused on inspirational female role models.

"We are trying to focus on advocating for literacy for students because we know a lot of lower income families don't have access to books in the home, especially at this time, but it is through books that students develop a love for learning," said Simpson. "Monica also wanted to encourage diverse female role models to help students feel empowered, which is important at a young age."

With a $1,100 grant from SRU's Office of Community-Engaged Learning, Tours' class reached out to publishers to secure the books needed to jumpstart the sessions.

The first book night took place Feb. 24 as children and their parents discussed "The Truths We Hold: An American Journey" by Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris' book was selected for the first session in recognition of Black History Month.

Separate group sessions were held for parents, children in grades 3-5, and children in pre-K through grade 2 to help discuss the information in an engaging way that was also age-appropriate. These sessions also helped integrate activities for children such as drawing, music and writing that emphasize information from the readings.

A second book night is planned for March 24. Parents will read and discuss "Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg" by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, while elementary students will read and discuss "I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark" by Debbie Levy. The Bader Ginsburg books were selected in celebration of March being Women's History Month.

Tours' class continues to fundraise so it can continue providing books for additional sessions. Any extra monies not used for the purchase of book is being donated to Dilworth to help support additional educational programming.

Donations, which will be collected through March 26, can be made via the SRU Foundation, Inc.'s website.

MEDIA CONTACT: Lesa Bressanelli | 724.738.2091 |