May 4, 2018

Duke’s Before and Afterschool Reading Academy occurs during the academic year at two Durham Public Schools locations – George Watts Montessori Elementary School and Forest View Elementary School – and receives funding from the Duke Doing Good in the Neighborhood employee giving campaign for classroom materials and teacher stipends. Here are snapshots from the program:

George Watts teacher Carolina Musawwir works with Afterschool Reading Academy students on Spanish vowel sounds.

Surrounded by eight of her students, Carolina Musawwir read aloud a “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” storybook in Spanish, at times pretending to be the bear and growling.

At the end of the book, Musawwir, an English as a Second Language teacher at George Watts Montessori Elementary School, looked up and began quizzing the students on words used in the story.

“¿La casa?” she asked.

“House!” the students responded.

“¿La sopa?”


“¿La cama?”


These eight first- and second-graders are part of George Watts’ Afterschool Reading Academy. On Wednesday afternoons, students work on Spanish letters and words, in which they sing a Spanish alphabet song to sound out vowels, or play card games by matching syllables to create full words.

As part of the same Afterschool Reading Academy program, these students join a larger group of about 30 George Watts students to work on their literacy skills in English on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school.

A George Watts student plays a card game in which she has to match syllables to create full words.

Many of these George Watts students come from bilingual families. They are hearing Spanish at home but not necessarily writing in Spanish at home, said Eliza Mathew, senior program coordinator of education initiatives for the Duke Office of Durham and Community Affairs.

“That’s what’s so cool about this program: There’s a Spanish reading piece and the students are connecting it to concepts in English,” Mathew said. “They’re seeing that their Spanish language is important.”

Carolina Sierra, third from the left, is a Duke student who serves as a tutor in the George Watts Afterschool Reading Academy.

Carolina Sierra, a first-year Duke student with the Duke America Reads/America Counts (ARAC) tutoring program, supports Musawwir at George Watts’ Afterschool Reading Academy. Sierra sits with the students and helps them complete their reading and writing exercises.

“Even in one week, they’re even more on top of it and less shy,” Sierra said about working with the students. “It’s really refreshing, coming from a serious college campus … I can run around in a circle and sing the alphabet.”

Forest View students play a literacy card game during their Before School Reading Academy.

On a Thursday morning at Forest View Elementary School, students read aloud a story called “Animal Tricks,” in which a dog learns how to shake hands. Forest View teacher Kara Schillings led students in reading aloud, writing words from memory, and crafting creative stories.

A young student drew a picture of a house with smoke coming out of the chimney. Underneath the drawing, he wrote, “I am happy today. Aad I am going to play with my sister at the house. Then I am going to whoch TV in my room. Last I am going to bed.”

The kindergarten through second-grade students spend 30 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings absorbed in these reading and writing exercises. Then, a specialized literacy instructor works with the students one-on-one at certain times during the school week.

Forest View teacher Kara Schillings reads a book with two of her Before School Reading Academy students.

Schillings said her favorite part of serving as a Before School Reading Academy instructor is watching the students grow in their literacy skills, when they can read a book that they weren’t able to read before. She also gets to know Forest View students outside of her traditional first-grade class.

“I like getting to know students who aren’t in my class, especially the kindergarteners who may have the chance to come up or the second-graders who come back,” she added. “It’s nice to be reminded that this is a bigger community and not just my little (classroom) home.”

Learn more about the school programs and projects that receive funding from Duke’s Doing Good in the Neighborhood employee giving campaign. 

Story and photos by April Dudash

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