Volunteers’ virtual Book Club is reaching more students than ever before!

At GiGi’s Playhouse Milwaukee, our mission is to change the way the Milwaukee community sees Down syndrome. We do this through free therapeutic, educational, and social programming for individuals with Down syndrome from birth through adulthood. Diane Schlitz, a retired teacher, is a longtime volunteer and literacy tutor for many of our participants. Through her work with our students, she saw a need to build reading fluency, comprehension, and decoding skills among our teen and adult participants. Her answer was to develop a Book Club for our students’ ages 13+. She began this weekly Book Club a couple of years ago and helped to develop curriculum guides that cover theme, vocabulary, comprehension, and promote independence. Over a 12-week session, our Book Club members read a chapter book provided by the Playhouse independently or with support and then come together to discuss character development, storylines using prediction, problem-solving, and comprehension. Each Book Club course culminates with a movie night related to the book as a special treat. The supportive discussions build participants’ comprehension and vocabulary in a collaborative and inclusive setting. For participants like 30-year-old Katie, the benefits of Book Club have been transformative. GiGi’s programming including Book Club has helped her to improve communication skills related to a speech impediment and develop much needed social interaction with her peers. She has blossomed from a point where she had very limited speech ability to now speaking more clearly and easily sharing her thoughts with the group. All our Book Club participants gain life and social skills and build friendships throughout the sessions.

When COVID-19 happened, Diane’s Book Club quickly transitioned to a virtual format. Even though technology added an extra challenge for Diane, who is admittedly not tech-savvy, she didn’t let that stand in the way of sustaining the Book Club. Diane’s willingness to learn a new platform and acceptance of help from another volunteer program leader has meant that Book Club will continue despite the pandemic. The online format has actually helped to make the Book Club even more accessible to more students. This fall, we had a record number of participants for the online Book Club with 18 individuals signing up for the weekly event. Book Club offers a needed connection and social interaction during this difficult and sometimes isolating time. Our programs help to fill gaps that manifest for special education students that often struggle to get education and services normally provided in the school setting. The Book Club program has been so successful, our national organization is now looking at Diane’s model to potentially make this a nationwide offering for Playhouses throughout America. We are so thankful for Diane’s contributions to our organization and the individuals we serve. She is truly a hero and asset to GiGi’s Playhouse Milwaukee!

Look for this program on our website calendar. It runs in tandem with our other tutoring sessions.

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