Reading Buddies foster a joy of reading, build home libraries, increase literacy
TINA L. SCOTT
Prior to schools eliminating visitors on school campuses in the spring of 2020, due to COVID-19, Pine River School for Young Learners (PRSYL) and the Headstart program had a long history with a group of volunteers called the Reading Buddies. Jill Seaman, Principal/Director at PRSYL/4K, tells the story: “Take a little step back in time to the year 1997, when Betty Ann Tubbin, Harry Tubbin, and their friends started something that would forever change the lives of children who attend Merrill schools. For some of our students, the first story that came to life was probably read to him/her by one of the Reading Buddy volunteers. These volunteers came from many different pathways in our community, yet all shared the same common goal; they wanted to build a stronger foundation for literacy in our community and believed that starts with our youngest learners. The majority of these readers were retired educators choosing to continue to contribute to the community as a Reading Buddy.”
Beginning 23 years ago, once a month, generally on the second Tuesday, “these reading angels” would “descend upon our building, take off their jackets, and assemble with a small group of preschool-aged learners to share a story. The children got very excited for these special friends that came to share a story and do a story-based activity with them,” Seaman recalled. They also soon learned they would get to take their own copy of the book home to keep forever and share with their own families.
The Lincoln County Association for Home and Community Education, comprised of many generous donors, provided the funds, and the PRSYL program assistant worked with Sue Johnson to select and order books. Sue and Kent Johnson put a sticker recognizing the sponsors into the front of each book and then delivered the books to the school in time for the Reading Buddy Days.
Most years, each student received a total of 12 books of their very own to keep and enjoy, to start their own home library.
“There were about 30 volunteers each year,” Seaman recalls, “most of them retirees, from all walks of life. However, we also had individuals take time from their workday. Doctors, ministers, attorneys, religious clergy – such as the sisters from the Holy Cross, here in Merrill. Also, last year we had a police officer that came to read each month with students, usually in uniform.”
“The impact of these volunteer efforts and contributions is hard to fathom, as it reaches far into the future,” Seaman said. But “in fact, we have some data to share that demonstrates just one tangible goal of every community – graduation rate.” The graduation rate for students who attended PRSYL for the period of years after Reading Buddies began, surpasses the graduation rate for students who attended in the years before it started.
Beyond the measurable, 23 years of Reading Buddies have also fostered something even more priceless: a joy of reading.
At the Merrill Area Public Schools (MAPS) Board meeting on Jan. 27, Seaman read a letter to the Board submitted by Sue and Kent Johnson who were unable to attend in person. The letter, signed “With Our Appreciation” said: “The Reading Buddies program has been a joy to help coordinate! We are thankful that we have been able to support local children by advancing their chances of attaining higher reading proficiency via the books purchased and distributed by Reading Buddies during their preschool years.”
“Reading Buddies has helped build home libraries throughout Lincoln County for the past 23 years. We are grateful to all the individuals and organizations who have supported this program through monetary contributions, knitting mittens for the children, or volunteering their time to read to the children we serve. COVID-19, of course, ended the volunteer portion of our program, however, we are thrilled to still support our schools with free, age-appropriate books. This school year, over 200 Lincoln County preschoolers will receive 12 books for their home libraries; in total, 2,520 free books will be sent home via the schools we serve.”
“We would like to thank the PRSYL staff for so highly valuing our program and especially thank them for taking the time to help us make book purchases. We look forward to continuing to ‘Promote the Joy of Reading’ into the 2021-2022 school year – ensuring every child in our program has the opportunity to build their own home library.”
The Board expressed their thanks to all the Reading Buddy volunteers and knitters and gave a round of applause in appreciation.
“As indicated by all the individuals that have been dedicated Reading Buddies with our youngest learners for decades, this community values literacy and early intervention,” Seaman said. “Sharing the joy of reading with children is still the most important thing we can do with our children to help them be successful learners and leaders in the years ahead. The Merrill community’s support for education and Merrill’s schools is one of the reasons Merrill is a wonderful place to live and learn.”
While Reading Buddies may be temporarily on hold, parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors can help children develop a joy of reading. Listening to children read aloud, reading books aloud to children, and letting children watch the adults in their lives read are great places to start. Whether in persn or via Google Meet, Zoom, or whatever technology is available, it is still possible to foster a joy of reading.