When we started The Adjoin Fund a little more than five years ago, we were a group of professionals who had stumbled on the profound reading crisis impacting African American boys in America. We soon learned that Chicago is always among the top cities where the crisis is overwhelming.

We immediately began to raise money and promote awareness. We also did some research, read about the issue, and talked to researchers and teachers about ways we could help.

One idea kept nagging at us. We wanted to know if the incredible reading machine, The Kindle, could have any power in encouraging boys to read more. No one we talked to could answer the question, so we decided to find out on our own.  In 2016, we mounted our first Youth Kindle Fire Club at Jane E. Neil Elementary School.

Buttressed with research on how kids learn, we found that kids do best in project-based activities, need a challenge, need to feel that the work they are doing is worthwhile, and do their best in a stress-free environment. Those are the principles that guide the club.

The Kindle Fire Club facilitators make sure the kids have fun but in a disciplined way. Facilitators bring lunch and eat with the boys promoting comfort and fellowship. They configure the club so the participants are below-level readers, those at level, and those above level. They try to get the boys to pair up and help each learn the ends and outs of the Kindle. The facilitators encourage some reading if it feels comfortable and does not promote fear with them. They use Kindle apps to teach boys high-level vocabulary words. They let the boys play some games but use the games to help them think strategically. They look for excitement but make sure things stay challenging but doable.

At the end of the eight-week club experience, the boys become “mini” Kindle gurus. They are able to help school personnel, friends, and family answer questions using their Kindles. Facilitators encourage the boys to use their Kindles in the future to navigate high school better, as the Kindle can help them clear some hurdles they would have been unable to clear without it. Finally, it is hoped that the club experience will give them a sense of achievement.

At project end, TAF board directors sit down with the boys from the club. We ask them if they had fun and what they learned. To The Adjoin Fund, positive answers mean success. Thus far, all of the Kindle Fire Club participants ranked the club as “the best class I have ever taken!”