Volunteer buddies build love of reading at Allen

By Tara Cavanaugh

In just eight weeks, a group of second and third graders at Allen Elementary have improved their reading skills by one or two levels.

These students were having a hard time with reading, but now they seem to love it. So what made the difference? Their reading buddies.

Reading buddies are volunteers who spend an hour with one, two or three students. The one-on-one attention and friendship helps the students love to read.

“They’re reading books that are a little harder for them than they normally would be reading,” said Carol Clyde, Allen’s Title I teacher. “This program has really helped them improve their attitude toward reading.”

The program was organized by Annette Ferguson, Ann Arbor Public Schools’ business partnerships and volunteer coordinator. Ferguson reached out to local businesses and community members, finding 30 volunteers who donated one lunch hour per week during the nine-week program.

The volunteers came from Google, Anytime Fitness, NSF International, Accent Reduction Institute, Comerica Bank, Language Links, Encore Online Resale, Dollar Bill Copying and Office Depot.

“My students have improved immensely,” said Collyer Smith, a volunteer and former board member of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation. “They’re a lot more excited. At first when we started they were a lot more nervous about reading out loud, but now it’s almost like a competition. One will say: ‘Hey, how come he got to read two pages out loud and I only got to read one?’”

Caroline Wojan, founder of Language Link, particularly enjoyed working with a student whose first language is Spanish. Wojan speaks Spanish, and she conversed with her student in his native language while helping him through books in English. “What I try to do is direct towards things I know he might be interested in,” she said. “He prefers nonfiction to fiction, and he’s really interested in animals and science.

“It’s a real privilege to do this,” Wojan added. “It’s great to see their faces and their appreciation of you coming in to see them.”

Nadine Brocci, district sales manager for Office Depot, agreed. “It’s very fun and rewarding, and I would definitely encourage anyone who is interested to volunteer.”

“I want to thank them profusely for the time they’ve given these kids,” Clyde said. “With shrinking budgets, it’s just really great that we’ve got these volunteers who will come into the school and take the time to do something really important for these kids.”

Clyde was particularly grateful to Ferguson for recruiting volunteers. “These kids have really come a long way,” Clyde said. “These are our struggling readers, and they like reading now –– which is really half the battle!”

If you are interested in volunteer opportunities, please contact Annette Ferguson at ferguson@aaps.k12.mi.us

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