Elementary Students Learn the Love of Reading Thanks to Community Partners
Published on 12/7/15
McKinley-Brighton Elementary School
Seymour Dual Language Academy
McKinley-Brighton third grader Nyquaisa Warren entered her school library and saw Bond, Schoeneck & King lawyer Ann Masica.
“Ann!” she exclaimed, as she ran over for a hug.
Ms. Masica has been reading with Nyquaisa once a week since last year, and the two have formed a bond.
“I get excited to read with Ann because she makes me excited to read,” Nyquaisa explained. “Reading is my favorite thing to do, and she takes turns reading with me… she reads the long parts and I read the short parts!”
Each week, 21 third graders are matched up with 15 lawyers from Bond, Schoeneck and King. For 30 minutes, students partner with the adult volunteers to read books based on their independent reading level. This year, students even have an optional writing component, where they can write in a journal about what they have read.
Gary Goodwin, the Executive Director of BS&K, has been volunteering with the program at McKinley-Brighton since the law firm started it at Elmwood more than 7 years ago. Each year, the firm provides the third grade with a dictionary and thesaurus, each child in the program receives a holiday gift and a pizza party is held to celebrate the end of each school year.
“Our staff is always looking for ways to get involved in community events,” Mr. Goodwin explained. “Some places just want money, but this is a way for us to give of our time and talent. It’s been fantastic. We get more out of it than the students do! The kids get to know us and will give us hugs as a greeting. It opens our minds to the ways we can make a big difference in a small way.”
McKinley-Brighton program liaison Beverly Peterson helps match students with adult readers and ensures that the program is running smoothly. She said this connection between students and volunteers is key.
“The goal is to let the child experience one-on-one reading time,” she said. “For some of these kids, reading isn’t a big component in their lives. Having these adults focus their attention on them and help them can really help them grow to love reading! One lawyer came up to me and apologized. He said, ‘we only read for 20 minutes and then we got to talking.’ I said, ‘that’s what this is about!’ It’s a great experience for the kids.”
At Seymour, a similar program has been in place since 2014—Book Buddies! The brainchild of Laurie Black at Syracuse 20/20, the program has expanded from reaching 20 first and second graders to reaching 86 students this school year.
“Third grade is the benchmark for if a student is likely to graduate from high school,” Ms. Black explained. “We wanted to make a difference and dig in. There is so much untapped potential of people who want to help but don’t know how!”
For Zach Karmen and his wife Linda, this is the second year they have volunteered to read to students in Book Buddies. He noted that watching the students grow and improve over the course of the program has created a connection, particularly with one student. He and his wife have attended the football games of a student and have even met his mom—all out of genuine interest in helping the student succeed.
“We knew there are so many needs in the city to help kids get ahead—and a good reading foundation is important,” he said. “If we can get them to enjoy reading in first or second grade, they are more likely to read for enjoyment and then they are more likely to read for learning. It doesn’t take much to show them we’re interested in what they’re doing and get them interested in reading!”
Seymour second grader Izzy Hewitt said she enjoys the program because of the one-on-one time. “It’s good because I get to read different kinds of books each day. I like reading and learning new words—it’s fun!”
Michael Nash, an employee at Knowledge Systems & Research, said about a dozen employees from the company volunteer at Book Buddies, and seeing the students’ progress and growth is the goal.
“It’s a good outreach program and a way to get our workforce out into the community,” he explained. “You can see the students move up levels, and it’s good to see real results. These are our future employees and future citizens—we need to make sure they are prepared and ready!”
Thank you to the volunteers from Bond, Schoeneck & King, as well as the more than 126 community volunteers at Seymour, for inspiring these young minds to develop a love for reading!
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