Director of Children’s Literature Program and Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Karen Huff, Ed.D. in May met, on Shenandoah University’s main campus, with a group of newly minted high school graduates, after having first encountered them all when they were first-graders at Virginia Avenue-Charlotte DeHart Elementary School in Winchester.
She connected with the students after they scored highly on a required literacy assessment. “The principal felt that with additional enrichment they would continue to flourish,” Dr. Huff said. “After working with them as first graders I decided to continue meeting with them. I worked with most of the students from first through fourth grade, two or three times a week. When they went to Daniel Morgan Middle School, I continued to work with them but we could not meet as often because of their class schedules. We had lunch meetings approximately five times per year and we read and discussed various books.”
“From the time they were in first grade through ninth grade we had college nights at Shenandoah. Many different professors have met with them to discuss various topics. Their first college night was when they were in first grade and Dr. John Jacobs discussed nature writing with them because we were studying “Charlotte’s Web.” Dr. Cindia Stewart joined the group in fourth grade to help enhance math concepts that were included in two of the books that we studied. In addition, each year, starting in first grade through their senior year, the students always came to at least one session at the children’s literature conference during the summer.
“My goal in bringing the students to Shenandoah was to help them feel comfortable on a college campus. I wanted them, even as first graders, to be able to imagine themselves as future college students,” she said. Now many of these students are set to attend college, with some being the first people in their families to do so. Some of the schools they will attend include George Mason University, James Madison University, Howard University, Lynchburg University, Johnson and Wales University, Lord Fairfax Community College and the University of Virginia. One has also enlisted in the Navy and will study nuclear engineering in the service.
“It has been a great joy and a privilege to work with these students,” Huff said. “They have made me a better teacher at the elementary and college level. Working with these students provided ‘real life’ examples that I could immediately share with my college students. I look forward to watching these students grow and seeing what the future will hold for each of them. I’m already thinking about ways the group can stay together while they are in college. In a sense I feel as though we are a family of readers. When you read everything from Beatrix Potter to Harper Lee together you share a lot of memories.”