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0-2 books available to children in low-income homes

Jeans Scholar aims to combat illiteracy and harness the power of words
Posted October 25, 2016

Sylvia and Hans Jeans Scholar Joanne Oh interns at the Maryland Book Bank.


Joanne Oh reads with a student from the Hopkins Tutorial Project. Joanne Oh reads with a student from the Hopkins Tutorial Project.

An enormous disparity exists in terms of book availability in homes at different income levels, which can affect literacy rates and later academic achievement, according to Writing Seminars and English major, Joanne Oh, A&S '19.

So, in addition to honing her own writing talent, she has been promoting literacy as a programming and social media intern at the Maryland Book Bank and as a volunteer in the Hopkins Tutorial Project, which provides academic support to elementary school children.

"Children from low-income families have on average zero to two books at home, whereas children from middle-income families have an average of 54 books," says Oh, who received the Sylvia and Hans Jeans Scholarship and a Woodrow Wilson Research Fellowship. "And the question right now is definitely how do we close that gap."

For Oh, this means helping educators find what they need in the Book Bank's warehouse and boosting the social media presence of this non-profit, which has distributed 1.8 million books in its 20-year history.

"Research shows that if children can't read at grade level by third grade, they're significantly less likely to succeed from thereafter," she says.

And Oh – who is studying with Professor Emeritus Richard Macksey – credits the Humanities curriculum at Hopkins for pushing her to develop her own thoughts and arguments. 

"I'd like to thank anyone who’s given a scholarship to the school. You are really making a difference in our lives, and I'm working very hard to hone all these skills to give back to other people all the things I've learned and been given," she adds.

The Jeans Scholarship gift was initially inspired by an advertisement about the Match Opportunity program, where University President Ronald J. Daniels and the deans have allotted $5 million each year to match the payout of donors’ new endowed gifts.