Second former Teresa Shang spent part of her winter break volunteering with elementary school students in the Shanzui Primary School in Huludao, China. Located in a rural area 4-5 hours from Teresa’s home of Shenyang, students at the school typically do not spend time reading literature.
To promote literacy, Teresa and five other student volunteers (one for each of the six grades in the school) held a book drive and collected books from friends and classmates to set up a “Book Corner” at the school. Teresa primarily spent time in second grade. She did some research with the 20 students in the class and found that 80 percent of them have only read 1-2 books while the remaining 20 percent more “resourceful” students have read 3-5 books in their lives.
Teresa said the education system focuses on reading for academics but these students rarely get the opportunity to enjoy literature.
“I read many books growing up, and I think reading is a very important factor in kids’ lives,” she said. “And I also want them to get out of their comfort zones, reading other than for math or other subjects.”
The older students at the school had the opportunity to read books in the book corner three times a week in order to make reading a regular part of their lives. The younger students had a smaller book corner with 20-30 books covering various genres, from fairytales to mysteries. During the time she was at the school, Teresa gave the students time every day to pick out books and read, treating it as though it was another class. She said they would often read the same book many times because they liked them so much and would even start to paint pictures of characters from the books.
“They are so excited about reading books every day,” she said. “When I came in, they would get excited to see me. We had 30 minutes after lunch for free time, and the students would use the time to read instead of playing because they were excited.”
Teresa set up a special borrowing system for the book corner and empowered a student “librarian” to oversee the rules and record when books were borrowed or returned. Teresa said the students’ favorite series of books is Winnie the Witch.
“They found the curse “abracadabra” really interesting even though they have not learned English yet,” she said. “I appreciate their curiosity and happiness and enjoy the smiles on their faces when they are reading the books.”
Teresa said her favorite series growing up was The Magic School Bus because they were fun stories but also gave you scientific knowledge.
She has been volunteering at the school for two years, teaching the students fun lessons or giving them knowledge outside of their regular studies. She plans to continue volunteering during breaks from her time at Saint James. In her first year at Saint James, Teresa said it already feels like home.
"This is a small school, and even on the first day I felt I knew a lot of friends, especially living in Onderdonk; it feels like a family,” she said.