When Alex Kirshenbaum first signed up for Lake Forest Academy’s Literacy Corps program, he did it to earn extra credit for a sophomore English class.
Two years later, Kirshenbaum — a 6-foot senior guard on the Caxys’ boys basketball team — is relishing his time with the mentoring program, which requires interactive participation in educational and art projects with kindergarten through fifth-grade students at A J Katzenmaier Elementary School in North Chicago. Sessions are held once a week, from 3:45-5 p.m., in October, and again in February and March.
“I got my extra credit (as a sophomore), but I kept on going,” said Kirshenbaum, who has since become one of the three Literacy Corps vice presidents. “They’re kids. They have a lot of energy, and they want to have fun, but we keep them focused on the task at hand.”
One project Kirshenbaum was part of featured a mural painted with different types of fish and various other aquatic images. After learning about the mural’s content, the older students filled out a questionnaire, and Kirshenbaum helped read stories about the different life forms. Second-graders used glitter to highlight each fish as well.
Last month’s project consisted of creating Halloween masks with paper plates, which the students then wrote about.
“There’s always a learning aspect to it,” Kirshenbaum said. “But a lot of it is about creating relationships. So it’s great for them, and it’s great for us.”
Literacy Corps members attempt to stick with a particular student for the program’s entire run, and that’s where the fun starts for Kirshenbaum.
“Last year, there was one kid, and he started off a little immature,” Kirshenbaum said. “By the end, he was listening — cleaning up, etc. — and you could see he was comfortable with us. Going back to the same kid from the week before, you already know them. A lot of (Literacy Corps) people are shy with the kids at the beginning, but once you get the relationship going, it’s easy. You get past that first stage, and it turns into fun.
“You have a bond with them. I enjoy seeing their smiles when they walk in. You never see someone who’s disappointed when you’re there. You feel you’re wanted.”
Porter Veach, a 5-10 senior and LFA’s starting point guard, was impressed by Kirshenbaum’s involvement in the Literacy Corps.
“I think it’s really good Alex does that — helping out kids and helping out the community,” Veach said. “He’s actually doing things with the kids, and making an impact on their lives. It’s important to give back. You can be good at something, and have it rub off on someone else.