Club giving gift of literacy to local students

By on December 4, 2003

As the holidays approach, many people find themselves feeling more generous. However, students at Quinnipiac have already been in the giving mood. The members of the Physician Assistant Club (PA club) are a perfect example. This fall, they began the first Quinnipiac University Children’s Literacy Program.

This is a program involving members of the PA club and students of Alice Peck Elementary School in Hamden.

“The PA members go every other week to the school for an hour to read to the children, who range in age from kindergarteners to third graders,” said sophomore PA President Johanna Chelcun.

Chelcun stated in health care illiteracy is a problem

“In health care, illiteracy is a problem,” she said. “Many people can’t read the medical papers so they often find themselves undergoing unnecessary surgery. Therefore, the PA club reads to the students in order for them to understand English, a crucial skill in our society.”

For one hour, the kids are read storybooks such as The Berenstein Bears and Clifford. These books are read once through by the PA members and then read again by the students. At the end, the stories are discussed and clarified.

“Some books like The Berenstein Bears contain morals, which are discussed as well,” Chelcun said. “The kids are asked if they have read any books on their own to encourage further reading practice. The younger the kids are, the better the chance that they will develop reading into a life-long habit.” Through this “interactive reading,” the children learn how to read English while having fun at the same time.

Professor Kohlhepp, a PA professor on campus, brought up the idea of the literacy program over the summer, and planning went from there. He volunteers his time in the New Haven elementary schools, and because of this was able to offer suggestions to the PA members.

So far, Chelcun says, “The program has been a huge success.” The volunteers have gone three times this semester, and hope to go two more times before finals.

On their last trip in December, the PA club plans to bring two or three wrapped books per student so the children can practice reading over vacation. Clearly, the program is up and running well from the Quinnipiac stand point.

“Alice Peck Elementary School also strongly supports the program,” says Chelcun. “The principal, Hamlet Hernandez, is very enthusiastic. The teachers love it and are very accommodating. And, most importantly, the students really look forward to having us come and read to them. Many friendships have formed through the experience.”

While the literacy program is running smoothly on the surface, there is one problem: money. This is the first year the PA club has been recognized by the student center, but it is not included in the budget chartered by the student government association. Therefore, says Johanna, “all the money for books and transportation to the school comes out of pocket money, donations, and left over money not spent by other organizations.”

In order to solve the problem, the PA club has applied for a national grant in the amount of $3,500 through the American Academy of Physician’s Assistants. If they receive the grant, there are a number of ways the club would like to improve the program.

As of right now, there are only about forty books that can be read. With more money, a wider variety of books could be offered, thus giving the children a better reading experience. Also, this is only the first year of the program. The PA club hopes to continue it in coming years, requiring future funding.

In addition to spending the money on the children’s literacy program, there are other events the PA club participates in. One such event is Operation Christmas Child.

This involves the collection and distribution of shoeboxes filled with small toys, candy, gifts, and hygiene products to children who otherwise would not receive any presents. “Even a little extra money could go a long way in this instance,” says Chelcun.

The PA club shows up for campus events as well. On Oct. 6, the club celebrated National Physician Assistant Day by handing out Pay Day candy bars with information about the club at a table in the Student Center. The club’s 50 members are advised by Doctor Michelle Geremia, also head of the PA program at Quinnipiac.

Thus far, the club has focused on getting themselves out there. Says president Chelcun, “The Children’s Literacy Program is a good way to involve Quinnipiac students in the kids’ lives and community.”


About Nicole Kurker-Stewart