A mission in transformation
When the Books and Beyond Reading Club (B&B) was founded in 2014, it was not an action made in haste or confusion. To founder Barbara Kwok, it was the realisation of a life’s dream and purpose. We sat down to chat with Barbara Kwok about her dream organisation, what teaching children meant to her and why she feels social and emotional learning go hand in hand.
How did Books And Beyond (B&B) Start?
I had always wanted to work with children, and the establishment of B&B was a way to fulfil that desire. However, I was equally clear in my desire to create something more than just another English-teaching organisation. The key to the puzzle was transformation; a mission to provide B&B students not just tools, but to also teach them how to use them effectively. This focus on social & emotional learning (SEL) is B&B’s calling card, dedicated to teaching not just the ABC’s, but how such knowledge could be applied with regards to compassion, gratitude, decision-making, and strength in their everyday lives, in and out of the classroom.
It may be cliché to claim as such, but there is a sense that every student of B&B is much more than that. They are seen not as numbers or names on a page, but as individuals with potential to be unleashed. It’s a strength in belief that manifests itself best not only when students are willing and able to learn, but especially when they are reluctant or sceptical at first contact.
Give us an example of how B&B works
Just a year ago, [one of our students,] Matthew was content with spending B&B lessons sprawled across the floor with no regard for the lesson material or the volunteer. In another time, in another place, he may have been scratched off as a hopeless cause and left to his own devices, but thankfully, he was in this place, in this moment.
I found that Matthew’s attention would pick up during storytelling presentations, when students would devise their own scripts based on the day’s lesson. So, I decided that I would ramp the activity up, surmising that he would eventually be curious enough to try it himself. One day in class, the staunch holdout raised his hand, and never looked back.
A year later, and Matthew has been entirely transformed. Before, his English test scores would often hover around the 20 to 30-point mark. Today, he is first in his class, consistently scoring in the high 80’s and 90’s. Matthew has also become one of B&B’s most dedicated student volunteers, energetically passing the passion he has found onto his fellow classmates.
Are all B&B kids success stories?
Matthew’s story is one of undeniable success, but not every student may immediately skyrocket to stellar results so quickly and clearly. Every child walks a different path, and it is B&B’s mission that they are accompanied every step of the way. However, this journey is not one done alone, but is aided by the guiding hand of volunteers dedicated to helping them succeed. The meaningful work can only be done with their ongoing support. When the results crystallise before their eyes, it all becomes worth it, and pushes all members of B&B to continue.
What are the biggest challenges being a charitable organisation dedicated to learning?
Our biggest challenge is recruiting volunteers who can dedicate their time and effort on an on-going basis. Children progress so much faster when volunteers build a rapport with them.
How can others get involved?
By signing up through our website www.booksnbeyondreading.com as a volunteer and share their experience with their company and peer. The more people get involved in the initiative, the more children will get the benefit of the program.
What age are the volunteers? Do they need special qualifications?
Our volunteers range from age 18 to 50. They need to love children, have patience, be energetic and most importantly see learning as fun. Volunteers are the ones who set the tone, energy and vibes in the classroom. They are the creators of a fun learning experience for the children.
What do you see for B&B in the future?
B&B has grown rapidly in the last four year in Hong Kong. We are working on developing the program in other countries like Ukraine, Zambia and Nicaragua. The acquired SEL skills, knowledge and disposition will help children manage self and relationships effectively. In the long run, the greater social and emotional competence will lead them to become responsible citizens.
Do children need to attend classes at B&B? Or do you offer one-on-one help in their homes as well?
Our two-year program offers 12 “In-the-classroom” sessions in each of our partner schools together with several outings in the first year. A sustaining online reading program in second year will help children consolidate what they have learned. We do not offer one-on-one help in their home as such. However, the B&B graduates are invited to join us as Book Bear Assistants, our Student Leadership Program. By being the student leaders, they will be able to contribute their passion to their younger peers and will be trained as future leaders in the community.
Books & Beyond Reading Club, Rm 801 Chinacham Johnston Plaza, No. 176-186 Johnson Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong, 9805 4336, www.booksnbeyondreading.com