An Interview with Greg Worrell: Mentoring with Greg Worrell

Jan 13, 2012 by

Michael Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) Greg, first of all can you tell us about what you do, and what you are trying to accomplish?

 First: Making sure that appropriately leveled classroom book collections are available in every classroom for instruction and for independent reading practice. Second: Providing professional development for educators supporting best practices in reading instruction. Third: helping schools and districts with family and community engagement opportunities that extend learning and literacy development for kids of all ages anytime, anywhere – both during and after school. Through the creation of our newest team, Scholastic Family and Community Engagement (FACE), we have been laser-focused on helping every caring adult support the learning needs of all children. Working with a number of partner organizations, the FACE team provides support that goes everywhere, both within classrooms and beyond the school day enabling communities to make a positive difference in a child’s life.

2) Now, January is “Mentoring Month “…Who has mentored you and what has it meant to you?

I have had many mentors and often say that I am a living example of the old adage: “it takes a village to raise a child”. I would also say that I’ve been influenced by many “mentor texts” — books that have played a powerful role in my life. They represent my “textual lineage” and have been very influential and important to me.

I’ll never forget how fortunate I was as a child to have caring adults who believed in me and supported me. As a result of this experience, I have always been determined to “give back” to society whenever I have the opportunity.

3) Tell us about a few of the people that you are currently mentoring.

When we launched the Scholastic REAL literacy mentoring program (Read. Excel. Achieve. Lead.) in Houston, I wanted to share how my love of books made a positive difference in my life. While visiting a classroom there, a 4th grade student approached me and told me about his dreams and plans for his future. His potential was obvious and I believed I could help. That young man, Bradford, is now an honor’s student in 7th grade. We talk about everything and anything that’s on his mind – from the importance of reading, to the importance of school and its relevance to his hopes and dreams, to last week’s NFL box scores. Since he’s in Houston and I am in New York, we only visit in person occasionally. I just try to be a positive role model, sharing my life experience. I also travel to Houston periodically to continue my participation in their mentoring program, where I visit schools and read to kids.

4) Now, books- I have to tell you that I have been impacted by several books- and have met some of the authors and corresponded with others. Are there certain writers who have had an impact on you?

On my sixth birthday, my Uncle Charles gave me a book, Now We Are Six by AA Milne. I still remember how I felt at that moment. It’s funny, I don’t remember any other present I received that day, but I remember that book. It was a book his parents gave him on his sixth birthday. It was old, from the original printing in 1927. The pages were slightly yellow, the linen blue cover was faded and the spine had started to fray at the top and bottom. Before I even opened it, I was hooked.

I grew up during the height of the civil rights movement. As I got older, many writers, from Langston Hughes to Ralph Ellison to Frantz Fanon were helpful for me. I would also be negligent if I didn’t mention Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

Scholastic believes that all young people are entitled to access to books that are relevant and meaningful to them. Those of us who are readers know how important books can be to inform and shape a uniquely positive life trajectory. With this in mind, Scholastic created a website, youarewhatyouread.com, where people can create their own unique “Bookprint”. For every person who does this, Scholastic will donate a book to a child in need through Reach Out and Read.

5) Are there any books that you absolutely recommend?

I am an avid reader of historical biographies. I recently finished Robert Caro’s Master of The Senate about Lyndon Johnson and really enjoyed Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals about Lincoln and his cabinet during the Civil War. Right now I am reading Tom Friedman’s That Used To Be Us. I would say that book is essential reading for anyone interested in what can be done to reinforce America’s continuing leadership in the 21st Century.

One of my favorite children’s book is Wings by Christopher Myers. For an older, young adult, I love Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan.

6) Getting kids to read is the proverbial chore- what guidance do you give teachers (who are often kids first and only mentors)?

There are a few tips I would share with teachers when they are trying to encourage children to read. First, let children CHOOSE books they want to read. Choice can be a powerful thing for children and it helps kids realize that reading isn’t a chore – it’s FUN. To accomplish this, you will need lots of books in your classroom library. Leading researchers recommend a minimum of 300 books in every classroom.

Second, be a “reading role model.”. Kids will “be what they see,” so make sure students know that you love books and reading…. share your Bookprint as a class activity so they know the books that most influenced YOUR life. Third, connect books to what the children are learning in school or in the real world. We often take this for granted. Walter Dean Myers, for example, writes award-winning literature that captures the lives of children who grow up in difficult situations or, in Sunrise over Fallujah, tells the story of a young soldier who served in Iraq. Books help us better understand our world.

In addition to these tips, it’s also critical to get the child’s parents involved. Reading and literacy should not end when the school day does. Research has shown that having books in the home has a greater impact on how far students will go in school than the education level of the parents.

7) Where can teachers get more information about Scholastic and the fine work that you do ?

Teachers and parents can get information about Scholastic through our various websites.

The Scholastic Family and Community Engagement website offers tips on family involvement, early literacy and mentoring – and provides information on this important initiative at Scholastic. http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/face/

The Scholastic Teacher Site, the internet’s most popular website for teachers, can be found at: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/. The Teacher Site offers over 100,000 pages of FREE content and teaching resources.

And the official Scholastic Company Blog, On Our Minds, will keep you up-to-date on all things happening at Scholastic. On Our Minds has great features on children’s books, education trends and ideas and reflections on literacy. Access the blog Scholastic here: http://oomscholasticblog.com/

8) I have to tell you that both as a teacher and even a college professor, I sponsored those Book Fairs- why do you think they are important, and where can teachers get more information about bringing a Book Fair to their school?

Letting kids choose the books they want to read is very exciting and motivating for them. So whenever they buy at the book fair, or order through Scholastic Book Clubs, kids are choosing books because they WANT to read them. That’s a powerful thing that can help children build a lifelong love of reading. Book fairs are also important because of accessibility. Many children in poor neighborhoods or rural areas don’t have access to books, let alone affordable books. Scholastic’s mission is to ensure all kids have access to books. And, finally, they are exciting literacy events that the entire school and community can rally around to share a love of reading and books.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

I would encourage everyone to mentor a child. There is tremendous need for adult males in particular to get involved and be role models for our young boys. It takes so little to have a positive impact. Becoming a mentor is easy. It can be as simple as calling your local school, and offering to help. Go visit, read to a class and share your personal story. Get involved in a Scholastic R.E.A.L. program. There are also lots of great volunteer organizations focused on mentoring; Big Brothers & Sisters, Mentoring Cares – organized by Susan Taylor, formerly of Essence Magazine. I also often work with the 100 Black Men of America. I guarantee that any mentor will learn more, and take more away from, the mentoring experience than even the children who benefit from having a special adult in their lives.

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