Cecile Kraus devoted her career to teaching others to read. It began as an elementary education and reading teacher in East Cleveland, Ohio public schools. Later, after earning her PhD, she became a professor at Cleveland State University and taught teachers the skills needed to help improve their students' reading and writing.
But it wasn't until she moved to Vi at The Glen with her husband that Kraus immersed herself in literature. Now, she leads the short story discussion group at the community. Kraus is one of many volunteers that brings Vi residents together to share cultural interests.
"When residents take leadership roles in our programs and activities, other residents are more responsive to attend and participate," says Andi Agazim, lifestyle director at Vi at The Glen. "In addition to the short-stories group led by Cecile, residents lead a monthly 'talking' book club for residents with low vision, a play-reading group, a poetry group, an annual six-week series of discussions about national and foreign policy issues — our Great Decisions group — and a group that meets biweekly to discuss articles in The New Yorker."
In fact, it was a meeting arranged by another resident that led to the short-story group, and to Kraus's involvement.
"They had a meeting to see if anyone was interested in joining a group to discuss short stories. I had found one page about students discussing a short story in a former textbook of mine. I also did a bit more research on the web," Kraus says. "I came to the meeting and said I wasn't interested in coming to a meeting where people would simply share miscellaneous thoughts about a story. I wanted to have a meaningful, organized discussion.
"And of course, as one might predict, they asked me if I would lead the group," she adds with a laugh.
So, every other Saturday morning, Kraus gathers the notes she has prepared and joins other residents in the Vi card room.
"I have a lesson plan for each story, a series of questions that I ask to guide the discussion, Kraus says. "I present a brief biography of the current story's author, and then we discuss the questions. The answers I have written in my notes are not necessarily the 'right answers.' I tell everyone that we are here to analyze aspects of the story and decide together its meaning and its merits.
"We determine the place and time of the setting. Then we analyze the plot, including the conflict of the main character, and the crisis. We discuss the point of view, symbolism, and themes. Is there a theme stated in the text, or do we need to figure it out ourselves? Is the theme topical or universal? Finally, I read excerpts from one or two critical reviews of the story."