The Literacy Center at CCSU has a distinct personality. Color cut-outs, festive decorations, and books spill out of the doors and into the hallway in Henry Barnard Hall. Inside, there is a long community table with giant-size checker boards and generous containers of cheese puffs.
“We do a lot of community-building together,” says Dr. Jesse Turner, professor of Literacy, Elementary & Early Childhood Education. Turner has been the director of the Literacy Center for the last 19 years.
“We have regular guest speakers, read-a-thons, and celebrations,” he says, noting the importance of shared reading experiences.
The Literacy Center is divided into a half dozen reading cubicles. Children and their tutors dive into books like the “I Survived” series, which chronicles historical events like Hurricane Katrina.
Fifth-grade student Johnny Strong and his tutor, graduate student Kelly Conaty, talk about Johnny’s reading successes.
“Before, when I would read a book,” he says, “I would forget what I was reading about. But now I remember … and if I forget, I reread what I read.”
Conaty, who is completing her master’s degree in Literacy, Elementary and Early Childhood Education, notes “That’s why you’re an even better reader than you were, because you’re using these great strategies.”
Participants receive rewards for things like reading an entire chapter book or reading books on special topics that celebrate Hispanic Heritage month, Black History Month, and Women’s History month, among others.
The spirit of success at the Literacy Center is palpable, though sometimes bittersweet. “We have to say goodbye to three-fourths of the students this semester because they’re reading at grade level,” Turner says.
The 19-year investment Turner has made in the Literacy Center is evident in his larger-than-life persona with the children and his passion for helping to create outstanding literacy teachers and enthusiastic readers.
“I was hired to bring our Department Reading Clinical Practicum into the 21st century some 19 years ago,” Turner says. “That began with redesigning the space, focusing on becoming more welcoming to children, parents, and teachers, and bringing more diverse books to our center.”
He adds, “If I went to the gym on my own, I’m not very motivated. But if I go to the gym and there’s a happy, cheerful coach, I’ll feel very motivated. And that’s what we have here.”
Turner’s vision for a 21st-century Literacy Center is carried out in large part by the graduate students who work one-on-one with the elementary students.
“They are fully certified teachers who are either completing their master’s degree to become a reading specialist or their sixth-year degree to become both reading specialists and reading consultants,” Turner notes.
The Literacy Center looks enthusiastically into the 21st century. In December the second floor of Henry Barnard Hall will be remodeled. Temporarily relocated on the first floor, Dr. Turner says, “Our new focus will be birth to 100. Success in literacy should begin early.”
Turner also envisions book clubs for elders to come in and read and serve as tutors and special guests.
“I see the center as being a vibrant focus for literacy in the surrounding community across generations,” he says. “We are rooted in being an incubator of good will and good works for all.”