‘The Picture Books Project’ rekindles joys of reading among homeless youth

Most of us have some memory of being read to by an adult when we were little, but we often underestimate the positive impact this has had on our relationship to books, reading and studying. Many young people who are currently experiencing homelessness do not associate books with joy, but rather with failure at school. ‘The Picture Books Project’ has helped homeless youth reconnect with books and has taught them the value of reading with their own children.

The project was designed and delivered at Key College by UTS Senior Lecturer of the Teacher Education Program, Dr Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn. In this volunteer role, she worked with homeless youth to practice reading aloud to children, and also author their own books which they could read at public libraries during pre-school story time.

For many Key College students, creating their own picture book is their first experience of seeing a project through to the end and feel joy from academic achievement. Although high school age is considered a very late stage for intervention, Dr Pressick-Kilborn is an eternal optimist.

“You can never give up on young people. It’s never too late, and you have to keep trying. Most people who go into teaching see it as making a difference in the world and I’m an idealist. I truly think this is a way I can use my knowledge and skills to make a difference, to deliver a good for society,” Dr Pressick-Kilborn says.

She explains that it is not only important to help because it is a worthy cause, but because many of us wouldn’t be in such a fortunate place if it wasn’t for the care and generosity of others.

“I am always aware that I am just one step removed. My great-grandmother left a domestic violence situation, and this was in the 1930s. I am astonished by her courage to leave her husband and relocate to Sydney with four children, especially at that time.

“If it hadn’t been for the generosity and kindness of others, her story might have been quite different. She was able to lead a stable life and receive an education. But I think if she hadn’t received schooling or encouragement from others, that might have been a different story for her – and for me,” she explains.

Despite receiving many awards for her work, including the Elizabeth Hastings Memorial Award for Community Contribution at the 2018 UTS Human Rights Awards, Dr Pressick-Kilborn remains humble.

“Often, we focus on the recipients of philanthropic work, but I have personally gained so much and learned so much from this experience. It has helped me as a teacher when it comes to understanding my students, their needs and circumstances – they are often struggling in lots of different ways.

“I also think of my own children and how I can bring them up understanding their privileges and be humble instead of feeling entitled. I am trying to raise them with an understanding that when you are in a position where you have a social advantage, it is important to give that back and think about the service you might be able to give to others,” she says.

The Problem

Many young people from dysfunctional families are unable to break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage in mainstream schools.

The Response

UTS Senior Lecturer Dr Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn has been volunteering at Key College, a small ‘second chance’ alternative school run by Youth Off the Streets, which offers young people an opportunity to re-engage in education to complete Year 10.

What helped accomplish this?

Her ‘Picture Books Project’ is designed to improve the literacy, interpersonal and future parenting skills of young people who are currently experiencing homelessness. The project involves the authoring and showcasing of their own original picture book.

What has changed as a result?

As a result of this initiative, the program has made a community impact by equipping young people with a greater range of skills and experiences, which have seen many of them become active volunteers and productive members of their communities.
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Impact Area



UTS Faculty or Unit



Dr Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn, Senior Lecturer, Professional Learning Core Member, STEM Education Futures, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
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