Summer Student Work: Callahan ’15 advances Project Story Boost in L-A

Brenna Callahan ’15 inspires a love of reading in young Montello School students with Project Story Boost.

Brenna Callahan works with an unidentified pupil at Montello School. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Brenna Callahan works with a rising fifth grader at Montello School. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Name: Brenna Callahan

Hometown: Milton, Mass.

Major: Interdisciplinary studies, with a focus on education

Internship sponsor: Harward Center Summer Community Work-Study Fellowship.

1. What is Project Story Boost?

Basically, it’s an early literacy intervention program. We work one-on-one with kindergarteners, first- and second-graders in a comfortable environment. We want to replicate a nighttime reading session with parents, a setting where the kids can feel relaxed and develop a love of literacy with a Bates student — develop that relationship and read some great books. I started working at Montello in 2013.

2. School’s out, what do you do for the project during the summer?

During the school year, as a Student Volunteer Fellow I recruited and trained Bates student volunteers, and worked one-on-one with Montello students. This summer I’ve been working with a summer class unrelated to Project Story Boost, but also looking at Project Story Boost’s evaluation program, redesigning and refining it to make sure we’re getting the information we want.

3. Tell me about that information.

We’re entering the data we collected over the entire school year after every single student session. After a Bates student reads with a Montello student, the volunteer fills out a form that tracks the Montello student’s behavior, which book they were reading, how responsive they were and what kinds of questions they asked.

This summer we’re inputting all the data to see if there any trends based on the level of book the pupil read. Then we’re going to take a step back and look at the evaluation forms to see if there are different questions we want to ask to solicit new information.

4. What specific details did you focus on?

We’re trying to see if there are changes over time — if a child’s behavior is different at the beginning of a semester than at the end, if they’re understanding more of the story at the end of the semester than at the beginning. We’re looking for concrete changes that show that the program’s making a difference.

5. What do you like about this work?

I love working in the schools, it’s my favorite environment to work with kids. I’m a very structured person, and schools give me that structure. I’ve never worked with such young kids before, that was something new for me — I love it. I love getting to see Montello students experience the same books that I loved reading as a child.

6. Do they have The Very Hungry Caterpillar?

They do! There are some good ones in there, like Where the Wild Things Are.

7. How does Project Story Boost relate to your studies at Bates or your career plans?

I know I want to go into education, but I don’t know exactly how I want to do it yet. I don’t know if I want to do curriculum development, if I want to write books, work one-on-one with students or work in the classroom. Getting into the Lewiston schools has been a great opportunity to explore the different career paths I may want to pursue. I’ve gotten to try a variety of things, which has been really eye-opening. I’ve been very lucky to have these opportunities.

8. Any thoughts on how your liberal arts education impacted your experience?

One thing that I’ve loved about my Bates experience is that I’m an interdisciplinary major. I’ve been able to combine classes in education, sociology, psychology and politics, see the connections and see how it plays out in the real world.

9. Do you have any concluding thoughts you’d like to share?

Lewiston is the reason I came to Bates. Through the Harward Center and through Project Story Boost I’ve been able to take advantage of that, to live in this community and be a part of it in a way I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. It’s my favorite part of going to Bates.

I’m really excited to be here for the summer, and to be a part of the community 12 months out of the year, to work with these kids and develop meaningful relationships. They’ve grown, and that’s really fun to see.