Book Buddy Program Helps Struggling Readers
By Chuck Galey
We all know that reading is probably the most important skill a lower elementary school student can achieve. Not all students learn in the same way or at the same rate, sometimes creating other academic problems. To help struggling readers bridge their gaps, schools look for additional support so that all our children can be successful.
In the Jackson Public School District, the Book Buddy program was created within the Partners In Education Program to encourage organizations and individuals to come into the school once a week to read with these struggling students.
Ms. Thea Faulkner is the Director of the program at JPS. “There are hundreds of Book Buddy, corporate and church Partners in Education volunteers that work with JPS. Schools are very appreciative of the help from the community,” she says. “A student always responds to an adult who carves out time out of a busy schedule to read with him or her one-on-one. The students realize how important reading is if an adult is willing to make that 30 or 45-minute session each week.”
Before a student ever sets foot in the classroom, there can be encouragement from home. “Work on puzzles with your children. Read to them. Go to museums. Explore a garden. Be an engaged and active parent with your children,” says Jessica Weems and Rosalind McCreary, Open Doors Teachers at Casey Elementary School in Jackson. She adds: “Encourage their curiosity.”
Experienced Book Buddy volunteers have their favorite episodes as well. Jan Taylor is a former English teacher and coordinates the Partners in Education Book Buddy Program at Fondren Presbyterian Church in Jackson. She has been a Book Buddy for over 25 years and sees an important advantage for the students she reads with. “The first-graders that are just starting out learning to read sometimes need a lot of encouragement. Watching their reading skills improve is rewarding. Sometimes, the student is part of a multi-lingual family where English isn’t spoken fluently in the home. Taking turns reading to them and then letting the students read gives them valuable experience with the English language,” she says. “This one-on-one attention is crucial. The look on their faces when they are able to read by themselves is priceless. The next year, after the students have moved on to another grade, I’ll see them in the hallway at the school. They’re excited to tell me what they are reading now. It’s so rewarding to know that I helped a little along the way.”
Mary Lewis is the Partners in Education Book Buddy Coordinator at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson. She sees an opportunity to reach out to the community. “The Book Buddy experience allows me to leave my world and enter the world of the student. It gives me a different perspective,” she says, “For struggling readers, I try to choose a book that is below their reading level so that when they can read these books successfully, there is a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
Rebecca Starling, Past-Director of the JPS Partners In Education Program, says, “The goal of the Book Buddy Program is to instill the love of reading. The more children love books, the more they read. They become lifelong readers.”
Rhoda Byder Yoder, Principal at Casey Elementary School says, “Reading ability is at the heart of our school. Covenant Presbyterian Church Book Buddies contribute hundreds of hours every year and are a large part of our success in being an A rated school.”
As a writer and illustrator of children’s books, I find the Book Buddy experience especially rewarding from a sense of helping a student become a lifelong reader and seeing first-hand the subjects and level of books a third grader is interested in.
Your local school is always interested in volunteers who are willing to come in the classroom and read to the students. Contact your local school for more information on how you can volunteer to become a Book Buddy.
Chuck Galey writes and illustrates picture books. Visit his website to see what he’s up to at www.chuckgaley.com.