She wants to be a teacher. Or maybe a paleontologist. Or a gardener.
Truth is, 7-year-old Laila Lopez really can't decide what she wants to do when she grows up.
"There are just so many things to chose from," she said.
But the second-grader at Woodmore Elementary School knows one thing for sure: She loves to read.
"Ever since I went to school in kindergarten, they kept telling me to read," she said. "So I started getting into it and, well, I started going crazy about books."
Laila received her first library card Wednesday afternoon as a new Girls Inc. program, The Bookworm Club, kicked off in Chattanooga. The program works with first- and second-grade girls at Woodmore and East Ridge Elementary schools, aiming to improve their literacy, writing and reading skills.
"We'll teach them through all sorts of things," said Toccora Johnson, manager of elementary-age programs at Girls Inc. "We'll use Bananagrams, Scrabble, spelling bees, hangman. They'll read recipes, and they'll create recipes."
Teachers at the two elementary schools identified 48 girls who need extra learning support to join the program, which will meet twice a week at each school.
While Girls Inc. is focusing on Woodmore and East Ridge schools, Johnson said the national curriculum is aimed at all girls between 6 and 8.
"All the curriculum used by Girls Inc. is evidence- and outcome-based," she said. "We have the evidence and the research so that we know using this program will improve their reading levels."
Hamilton County School Superintendent Rick Smith addressed a handful of girls at Wednesday's event.
"The more you read, the more you write, the better students you will be," he told the girls, who each wore a bright-red Girls Inc. T-shirt on top of their school uniforms.
The program is offered free to the students and is supported by United Way, the Weldon F. Osborne Foundation, Amazon and the Downtown Chattanooga Rotary Club.
Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce President Ron Harr said the program is critical for Chattanooga's future -- and not just academically.
"Great cities are built by good jobs, good jobs are gotten with good education, and good education starts with reading and literacy skills," he said.
While Laila can't decide what her grown-up job will be yet, she said she'll keep on reading until she can figure it out.
"Reading helps child education," she said, "but mostly it's fun."
Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...