Community volunteers make a difference for early readers

By Ruthann Carr, Correspondent

Children who are read to, who are surrounded by adults who cherish books, have an advantage.

Unfortunately, many children come to school having rarely been read to.

Book Buddies at Central Elementary is on a mission to change that.

Carol O’Dell said Book Buddies is a school-based tutoring program that uses community volunteers to help build lifelong reading habits with their students.

She said first and second grade teachers spend the initial weeks of school figuring out which students might benefit most from the program.

“It’s not always a child who struggles with reading, it could be a child who just needs one-on-one attention,” O’Dell said.

The program has structured, monitored, lesson plans – written by reading specialists – that focus on reading comprehension, sight words, and writing.

Volunteers are trained to work one-on-one with students weekly to foster a love of reading and to strengthen their reading skills, O’Dell said.

During the 2017-18 school year there were 36 students in the Book Buddy program reading with 10 volunteers.

Perhaps one of the best benefits of the program is the bond developed between the volunteers and their students, said Megan Snoddy, a second-grade teacher.

She said she loves having these volunteers working with her students.

“The book buddy volunteers who have served my students have not only helped them improve their reading skills, they have enhanced the students’ self-confidence and love of reading,” Snoddy said. ”All my students who have been privileged to work with a book buddy have always been excited about the special time they could spend with an adult and the new relationship they formed.”

It’s enough to keep the volunteers coming back, O’Dell said.

“Many of our volunteers return faithfully each year and have now been working with our Book Buddy program for over five years,” she said. “We are so appreciative of the time they give to support our students and always welcome new volunteers.”

The students enjoy it, too.

O’Dell asked one of Doug Wylie’s students about the program and he said, “I liked how he helped me read the words.”
A student who worked with volunteer Suzanne Dolan said: “I was doing fun stuff. I liked reading to her.”

At the end of the school year, Central recognizes volunteers for their dedication and service, said Amy Barnabei, principal.

“A brunch at the end of the year provides yet another opportunity for our staff and students to thank them personally for their diligent service to our school,” Barnabei said.

If you’d like to get in on the Book Buddy program, contact division coordinator Lissa Gooch at

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a division of the U.S. Department of Education, children who are read to at home enjoy a substantial advantage over children who are not:

Twenty-six percent of children who were read to three or four times in the last week by a family member recognized all letters of the alphabet. This is compared to 14 percent of children who were read to less frequently.

The NCES also reported that children who were read to frequently are also more likely to:

Count to 20, or higher than those who were not (60 percent vs. 44 percent)
Write their own names (54 percent vs. 40 percent)
Read or pretend to read (77 percent vs. 57 percent)

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