Before the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe this year, members of Delhi High School’s Helping Hawks Club spent time giving back to the community through activities like feeding the homeless, cleaning up after football games and spending time with special needs students. These days, COVID-19 has put a stop to those charitable efforts — but that hasn’t stopped students from finding other ways to give back.
A new group known as The Reading Hawks has formed within the service club, which advisor Matthew Ward created, in order to give students a way to continue helping their community during a time when it is needed most.
“We had all of these different ways for students to serve in our club, and then COVID happens and it’s pretty much impossible to figure out a way to help the community,” Ward said. “Out of nowhere, this idea came into my mind.”
The Reading Hawks meet virtually with elementary school students in kindergarten, first and second grade for 30 minutes twice per week, reading books to them about animals, shapes, adventure and more in both English and Spanish. There are six reading groups throughout the school district, each of which are supervised by a teacher or paraprofessional.
Despite these reading sessions taking place via webcam, Ward said it has been rewarding for the elementary and high school students alike.
“The students in the club are doing great and they’ve connected really well with the young kids,” he said. “I’m really proud of them.”
According to DHS junior Adriana Salazar, elementary students have gone from keeping their camera and microphones off during the sessions to actively participating and showing interest in each book. Now, the young students look forward to The Reading Hawks, she said.
“I definitely enjoy Reading Hawks because the kids are really funny. They don't really have filters, so they make us laugh a lot,” Salazar said. “Even if we can’t go do things in person, I know the kids really enjoy it. Some of their parents work a lot and they have no one to talk to, so I think they really enjoy coming to talk to us.”
For freshman Sandra Estrella, making a difference in just one student’s life has been the most rewarding part about the experience.
“It gives them something to look forward to at the end of the day. We talk to them and see how their day is going, and a lot of them will tell us their day has been bad,” Estrella said. “It hurts us to hear that, so we try and make reading exciting. By the end, they’re doing god and it’s such a cool thing to see and know that they look forward to coming.”
The high school students utilize websites like getepic.com and uniteforliteracy.com in order to find books to read, and one group has grown from four students in its earliest sessions to now 15 strong. Salazar’s mother is a second grade teacher and has helped spread the word about The Reading Hawks to other K-2 students, and club members connect each week to share insight and ideas on how to improve the effort.
Along with boosting students’ moods, the reading sessions have also been a place where younger students can improve their English and Spanish, said senior William Ruiz, in a school district which is home to a large Latino population.
“I think English is a pretty standard thing to know, especially in the U.S. since it’s used everywhere,” Ruiz said. “Improving their English even just a little but is mentally boosting for me as well. It shows I’m actually doing something to help the future generation who will lead us one day.”
While students in the Helping Hawks Club may not be able to give back in the ways they once did, The Reading Hawks have proved that goodwill is possible no matter the circumstance.
“I look forward to 3 o'clock every week because of how fun it can be. I never thought I would enjoy it as much as I do,” Estrella said. “Their smiles and expressions brighten up the entire day. They enjoy reading so much more now, and when they get older they’ll be able to remember these activities we did and maybe want to do it themselves and help keep it going.”