Olivia Teller and Jacob Christian, both 13-year-old KIPP Ascend students, spent three weeks in Dominican's Education Reading Academy Program. By the program's end, the two had brainstormed ways Chicago might deal with police abuse. | Courtesy Dominican University

“A lot of people are getting shot and killed for no reason,” said 13-year-old Keyandre Embrey. “I almost got shot around a year ago.”

The North Lawndale resident contemplated the city’s violence, and possible solutions to it, as part of an academic presentation he made at Dominican University in River Forest last week.

Embrey was one of 40 participants in Dominican’s School of Education Reading Academy Program, a three-week summer course that paired students from schools like Chicago Jesuit Academy in Austin and KIPP Ascend Middle School in North Lawndale with 23 undergraduates, graduates and specialists seeking reading specialist certification among other teaching credentials.

“We have a program that provides 45 minutes each of reading, writing, research and technology,” said Penny Silvers, the program director and a professor in Dominican’s School of Education.

Elia Ellis said her son, 12-year-old Michael Allen, showed marked improvements in less than a month.

“He’s only been in here for three weeks but he’s improved almost a full grade level in his reading,” said Ellis. “He’s just showing a lot more confidence and more enthusiasm.”

Scott DeCaluwe, a Berwyn teacher pursuing his master’s degree in education to become a reading specialist, attributes the program’s success to its intimacy.

“I think the one-on-one time, the ability to connect with teachers individually is very important,” DeCaluwe said. “This program allows us to see kids with diverse abilities and from different backgrounds. As teachers, we learn to adjust to the students’ particularities.”

Silvers said the summer program also makes students think critically about problems in the real world while cultivating in students a passion for learning and reading independently. Each year, the students receive $50 gift cards to Barnes & Noble Bookstore. This year, Silvers said, the students took a bus to the store’s downtown location within DePaul University’s Loop Campus.

On July 29, during the program’s last day, Embrey and his colleagues showed an audience comprising their fellow students, parents and teachers presentations they produced with video editing software and a green screen.

The presentations delved into pressing real-world issues like gun violence, lead poisoning and cyberbullying, and explored cultural phenomena like hip-hop.

Keyandre’s brother, Kavion, 12, said he’d like to see more “no-guns allowed” signs in establishments and fewer loaded guns in the hands of people seeking to do harm.

For Olivia Teller and Jacob Christian, 13-year-old students at KIPP Ascend, the three-week summer program allowed them to think about ways to end police brutality — a subject they know through experience.

“We’ve seen people go through it with the police,” said Teller, explaining the motivation to research and produce their roughly five-minute presentation. “And we wanted people to know that black lives do matter.”

“Some police think they’re above the law and don’t have to follow the rules,’ said Christian. “Police should get more consequences. When they kill blacks, they stay on the job and still get paid. That’s not fair.”

They also considered the fatal 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland by a police officer who mistook Rice’s toy gun for a real one.

“Even though he was holding a gun, he wasn’t trying to attack the cops,” said Christian. “He didn’t even know somebody had called the police. They could’ve checked the gun Tamir had, but the police needed more training to do that.”

The two students proposed more body cameras and more consistency among officers who wear them. Currently, they said, some cameras are worn inappropriately or are dysfunctional.

Ernestine Johnson said she’s noticed the emotional and academic growth in her son Darius, 12, whose presentation comprised a rap that Johnson created with his two friends, Makhi Reed, 14, and Kameron McBroom, 13. All are students at Chicago Jesuit Academy.

“We wanted to do something humorous to tell about why rap is good,” said Darius.

“He’s improved in everything,” his mother, Ernestine, said. “I mean, he treats his little cousins and younger children better. He really enjoyed his time here. It was all he talked about.”