Summit County Rotary Club seeks Reading Buddies volunteers
When Karen Terrell walks into the second grade classroom at Upper Blue Elementary every Monday morning, the students’ eyes light up. They jump up from their seats.
One at a time, Terrell takes her assigned partner out of the classroom to the media center, book in hand. During the next 90 minutes, she will read with six students in 15-minute segments — the second graders, kindergarteners and even one fifth grader.
The Summit County Rotary Club started the Reading Buddies program in 2009, when founder Mary Anne Johnston began recruiting volunteers to read one-on-one with children in elementary classrooms across the county.
“We cover the spectrum,” she said. “We serve kids who enjoy having a reading partner, whether they are advanced or need help.”
With just three people in its first year, Johnston, chair of the literacy committee for the Rotary Club, said the program has grown beyond her expectations during the last four years. Last year, the program had 45 volunteers, and this year, Johnston is still looking for more.
“We’ve really grown because teachers see the value of a person partnering with a child,” she said.
The goal of the program is to help improve literacy, but in the process students also gain confidence, Johnston said.
Terrell, who also volunteered last year, said her students bring a new book to the table nearly every week, often pairing their reading with a subject from class, like animals or geography.
“All the kids at the start ask me what my favorite TV shows are,” she said. “They talk about what they watched last night. It astounds them I don’t have a television. I tell them, I read.”
She said sharing her love of reading with the students is one of the main motivations she has to keep coming back.
“I hope they come to believe reading is not a geeky thing,” she said. “It’s so exciting the day they actually get it, when they actually read the book.”
The Rotary Club also donates books in the spring to teachers’ classrooms to help fuel the Reading Buddy program. They work in tandem with reading specialists at the schools, to identify which students would benefit most from a new buddy.
“Our reading buddies get a lot out of it too,” Johnston said. “They feel connected to the kids, and the school, and community.”
Mara Greenberg volunteers as a reading buddy at Summit Cove Elementary on Tuesday afternoons. A retired high school teacher, she now works with first-grade students.
She said more often than not, the children who need extra help are English as a second language students, who fall behind compared to the kids who grew up reading in English from the start.
“Literature is really important in this world,” she said. “It helps make them more competitive in the workforce. Instead of texting all day spelling things wrong, they can gain these skills.”
Johnston recruits all types of volunteers from the community, not just the Rotary Club. She said they are always looking for more people to volunteer, especially men, and the only requirements are to love reading and love kids.
“There’s not enough of me to go around,” Terrell said. “Other kids ask if they can come with me, but I don’t have enough time. It’s so crucial and I so admire the students for their efforts. It really makes a difference.”
For more information about volunteering with the Reading Buddies program, call Mary Anne Johnston at 468-8922 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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