Students in the College of Education’s (COE) Early Language and Literacy LBS 310 course do more than study how children’s books contribute to early childhood literacy. By the time the course is over, students have written and illustrated their own books. It’s all part of CSUDH’s Project CYCLE: Crafting Young Children’s Literary Experiences, which brings the university and local community closer together.
The goal of Project CYCLE is to provide the young children and families of CSUDH’s Infant/Toddler Center, Child Development Center, and the surrounding community with books to read at home. It also gives the teachers-in-training hands-on experience in creating useful early literacy materials.
The project was conceived by Conrad Oh-Young, assistant professor of special education, and stems from his days as a classroom teacher. “We were always looking for different ways to help parents work with their children outside of school,” recalls Oh-Young.
“One way was to provide books for families, but money was limited, as you can imagine. We couldn’t purchase books for families, nor could we legally make copies of the books we had. So, the alternative was to somehow create our own books.”
In fall 2019, his first semester at CSUDH, Oh-Young presented the idea to his COE faculty colleagues. They shaped the idea into a practical proposal, then applied for initial funding through the university’s Instructionally Related Activities (IRA) Grants and Faculty Association Legacy Fund. They continue to be funded through the university’s IRA grants.
Jen Stacy, associate professor of liberal studies, has been one of the driving forces behind the project since its inception. She sees the course as a way for students to recognize how social realities and circumstances are reflected in early literacy materials.
“It’s important that the books children read reflect their identities. It’s important that folks from different backgrounds and languages are visible,” says Stacy says Stacy, who credits fellow Project CYCLE collaborator, Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies Amina Humphrey for helping students develop a critical framework for assessing and interacting with children’s books.
“We connect these issues to the course content, then we charge the soon-to-be teachers with that,” explains Stacy. “One day, they’re going to have to create curriculum, and children’s books are a great way to start thinking about being culturally inclusive. What can you create that reflects either your life or someone that you’re close to, or something that’s important and matters to you? It’s a great way to get students to really incorporate these ideas into their studies.”
In the four semesters that Project CYCLE has been integrated in Early Language and Literacy LBS 310, approximately 240 students (60 each semester) have written and self-published one book. Students have been enthusiastic about the results.
Kimmiesha Perryman, a child development major who graduated in 2021, wrote a book called The Chocolate Princess, dedicated to children with darker skin tones. “My point was to identify the differences but to also develop an appreciation of it on all sides,” she says. “I wanted to show children that we may all look different, but we’re all still human–and beauty comes in all shades.”
“When I first received my copy of the book, I was super excited!” she continues. “Being able to hold a copy of a published book that I wrote was great. This project was exciting because I’ve always thought about writing children’s books. It has definitely helped show me that I want to be an author.”
For Francisco Gonzales, writing his book was a chance to draw on his own experiences in the punk rock community and share them with kids. His book, Punk Rock Jav, is about a young punk rocker who is constantly criticized. “My book shows that he’s not what people say about him,” says Gonzales, who graduated in 2021 with his bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and his multiple subject credential. “For example, he’s told that he’s lazy, but my book tells how he works hard on the things he’s interested in, like skateboarding.”
The program has expanded over the years, and now provides materials for CSUDH JumpStart–a service program which pairs college students with preschools in under-served communities.
“We’re really excited about our collaboration,” says CSUDH JumpStart Director Jessica Ramirez. “They donated 250 books, which we were able to then give to our JumpStart students and partners. Now they can start their own library at home! We also gifted the preschool teachers some books to help replenish their classroom libraries.”
During the Fall 2021 semester alone, Project CYCLE distributed 200 books to the CSUDH Children’s Center and 250 to JumpStart. In August 2022, approximately 160 books were given to the community-based Preschool Without Walls program that meets on campus, with another 50 waiting to be distributed.
The program will be undergoing some changes for the 2022-2023 academic year. Rather than a class, Project CYCLE will be held as a series of workshops each semester. Stacy hopes that this new format will help open the program to graduate and post-baccalaureate students as well. Stacy and her colleagues would also like to integrate bilingual teachers and students into the program and bring in more external funding. Doing so would enable them to host literacy festivals, author or artist meet-and-greets, and even create a mini library of student-authored books.
“We have big dreams,” says Stacy. “Hopefully, we can continue to find the funding sources to be able to accomplish them. We would love to have Project CYCLE woven throughout our programs, and to have students at all levels involved. We’re going to use this year to try to figure that out, and we’re excited at what the future has in store for us!”