Students thank reading buddies

Published 8:02 am Friday, May 29, 2009

FRANKLIN—Students at S.P. Morton Elementary School sang patriotic songs, handed out flowers and — most importantly — gave hugs to the dozens of volunteers who helped them as Book Buddies and Book Mice this year.

Joyce Caplan, who serves as the reading coach and specialist for both Book Buddies and Book Mice at S.P. Morton, said the programs originally started eight years ago with 12 students. Today, the programs work with 24 children.

“They will definitely be better readers, and are going to be better kids, because they have known you,” said Caplan. “The kids do truly love coming to read with a Book Mouse. They take great pride in who has read today with the Mouse.”

The Book Buddy program pairs an adult volunteer with a child, a student in either first or second grade, who is having problems learning to read.

Children are tested regularly, especially with the PALS test, to check for proficiency in alphabet recognition, letter sounds, beginning sound development, rhyme, concept of word, word recognition, phonics and spelling. Students who test below or at state benchmarks or who appear to need some one-on-one help are put into the Book Buddy program.

Book Buddy volunteers meet with their assigned child twice a week for 45-minute sessions. Together, the tutor and child go over a lesson plan designed specifically for the student.

Meanwhile, Book Mice volunteers work with kindergartners, and can either work with one child for 20, 30 or 40 minutes, or with one child for 30 minutes and another child for an additional 30 minutes.

Melissa Nelson and Joyce Carter serve as literary coordinators for both programs.

“I think for some of you, you don’t realize (the importance of) the hour, or the two hours that you give a week to our chidren,” said

S.P. Morton Principal Don Spengeman. “It might seem small to you, and just a little part of your day and your life, but to our children it’s a very, very meaningful part of theirs.”

Spengeman added, “The hours you spend with your buddies helping them to learn to read also encourages them to be the best they can be, and gives them self-confidence and enhanced self-concept, which truly adds up and results in changed lives. It’s not the reading as much as the caring that really matters to our children.”

Joan Gates, a retired teacher of 29 years, had been a Book Buddy tutor to first-grader Carneisha Whitehead.

“I know how valuable the time is and what a difference it makes in children,” Gates said. “I just love it. I love working one-to-one with the children, and they really want to do their best for you. We had a very successful year. She and I bonded right away.”

Ken Behnken, a Book Mouse volunteer, said he spends about an hour each week working with different children.

“I get along very well with them,” Behnken said. “I like it very much.”