Jessica Chirico, of Havelock, completed her East Carolina University Scholars Leadership Internship course this spring.

Chirico, a 2010 Havelock High graduate who was valedictorian of her class, spent her internship course working to improve literacy in a class of young students at G.R. Whitfield Elementary School in the Grimesland community of Pitt County.

As a freshman at East Carolina, Chirico received the EC scholarship, the most prestigious merit scholarship offered to incoming freshmen at ECU, according to a release from the university. As part of the program within the schools Honors College, Chirico had the chance to select an internship that focused on making a positive impact on the community and involved a personal passion.

Through the internship, Chirico worked with an instructional coach at the elementary school and identified a classroom in which the need was great. They selected a third-grade class in which most of the  students fell below the average reading level.

Chirico spent the semester working with the students on their reading and comprehension levels through supervision and 10-minute quizzes.

She said challenging the students was important if they were to show any improvement in their reading level.

Im making sure they are not reading baby books because its easy, but pushing themselves to make sure that they are growing as readers, Chirico said.

She said she had a passion for reading as a child and knows how crucial it is for children to have the ability to read as they grow older.

I wanted to work with children and promoting literacy because thats really important to me, she said. I know that because I read a lot as a kid. Its helped me in so many ways. I can write well and I can understand word problems in math because I read so often.

Chirico said that she made a point of reading aloud to the third-graders during the 12-week internship.

Being read to helps you see that it can still be interesting instead of getting frustrated, she said. (Im) trying to show them that reading is fun, and if they work at it, it wont be such a struggle.

The internship was the second for Chirico. Her prior internship was with the North Carolina Literary Review, a statewide literary magazine published through the English Department at East Carolina University. During that internship, she learned about editing material for publication.

Chirico graduated from East Carolina earlier this month with a degree in English. She hopes to continue working with books as an editor for a publishing company.

Chirico is the daughter of Keith and Debra Chirico of Havelock.