Bring back The Book Buddy Volunteer Program

Published 9:37 am Saturday, August 3, 2013

In regard to your Wednesday, July 31st editorial, “Everyone’s Opinion Matters,” I accept your invitation to share my concerns on a matter that truly affects our community and the education of our children. This situation greatly distresses me, as well as many others, who have risen to the occasion to accept a challenge and responsibility to assist in bettering our children’s futures, and thus our community.

Twelve years ago, we began the Book Buddy Community Adult Volunteer Tutoring Program in Franklin City Schools with an educational grant from the state to institute an experimental two-year pilot program for first-grader students experiencing language difficulties. The grant was non-renewable, but the school system had the option of continuing or discontinuing the program based on measurable results. The Book Buddy Volunteer Program was (and continues to be) extremely successful beyond all early expectations.

The program paired at-risk first-grade students with community adults who voluntarily committed their time and energy to work one-on-one with our city children to assist with their educational progress. (At-risk children are those experiencing academic failure due to adverse social factors and negative environmental influences such as poverty, single-parent homes, drug and/or alcohol abuse, mental/physical/sexual abuse, family instability or neglect. These students will continue to experience educational failure without appropriate intervention.)

The Book Buddy Intervention Program was extremely successful due to the outstanding commitment of the community volunteers and supported by the high year-end test-measured gains by children enrolled in the program. To further assist with literacy readiness, a Kindergarten Book Mice Program was begun with volunteers and open to all (not just those at-risk), which paired adults with children in a quiet reading environment that demonstrated and developed the pleasures of reading.

Due to its outstanding success, the program was continued when the grant ended. The only cost to the school system was the salary for a part-time Literacy Coordinator. All other funding needs were addressed through local organizations, individual donations, and contributions. Through these 12 years, donations for the continuation of the Book Buddy Program have come from The Franklin Educational Foundation, Inc., the Ruth Camp Campbell Foundation, the Franklin Rotary Club, the Franklin Chapter of AARP, High Street Methodist, Emmanuel Episcopal, Franklin Baptist, New Hope & Cool Springs, Shiloh Baptist, Fellowship Around the Word, Congregational Christian and Hunterdale UCC. Many individual, personal and confidential donations were also made from the adults involved in the program and some not involved.

The Book Buddy Program provided the intended academic tutoring, but also mentoring, friendship, guidance, acceptance and social-emotional support for these children. They strive and grow unbelievably with the total attention of a single dependable adult arriving at the school, just for them, several times a week. Aside from the cognitive value, the love, growth, caring, sharing and bonding of child to volunteer cannot be measured in statistics. That is evidenced in the smiles, the hugs, the laughter, the little handmade gifts, the promises to return to see each other again next year and the difficult separation at year’s end. Those bonds formed continue as the child moves on through the grades and is evidenced by past program children returning over and over to “just see” their mentors.

The first-grade program had been so successful that several years later, a second-grade Book Buddy Program was added as an intervention tool for those a year older at risk.

The community has whole-heartedly supported this program for the past 12 years with their continued dependable volunteer attendance and funding. They have given up their personal time twice a week during the school year to assist our school system…because they care.

Volunteers who worked individually with these students came from retired Union Camp workers, the Bronco Federal Credit Corp, the Village at Wood’s Edge, the retired teaching and administrating force, grandparents, community organizations and businesses, retired CEO’s, fire department personnel (including the chief), the police department, the clergy, church members and from all those who just wished to give back for the betterment of their city.

Thousands and thousands of hours have been freely donated to this program to assist Franklin’s children with the development of their literacy skills.

The Franklin Educational Foundation had already approved another grant to assist with the continuation of the Book Buddy Volunteer Program for next year.

However, the administration at S.P. Morton Elementary has decided to discontinue the first-grade program.

I am in hopes that someone on the school board, or on city council or in the school administration can give a reasonable explanation of why one of the most successful programs Franklin City Schools has ever had, with the most community volunteer involvement ever, has been disbanded…especially when we are supposedly “Striving for Excellence.”

I find this to be dismissive of the wonderful, loving and giving volunteers who have been so faithful to our children throughout these years. I salute you, special people, and promise you that your efforts will continue to be rewarded through the years as those you have mentored become better educated individuals and productive citizens.

A statement in today’s (July 31, “Striving for Excellence) Tidewater News regarding the school system, states, “I appreciate all of you who make Franklin City Public Schools an outstanding educational organization. As a community member, you are an integral part of the success of our school division. We welcome your input, support and presence in our schools.”

Really? The decision to cut the first-grade Book Buddy Volunteer Program must be explained… and…revisited!

Faith D. Atkinson
Franklin, Va.