It’s a crisp December morning at South Franklin Circle, as a small group of residents clamber aboard the bus for a short ride to school. But here’s a twist: As part of the Literacy Mentors program at Timmons Elementary School in Chagrin Falls, these volunteers are heading to class to share wisdom, not to gain it.
Launched in 2010, the Literacy Mentors program aims to encourage a love of books among a select group of third graders. Each participating student is paired with one volunteer mentor for the duration of the school year. Student and mentor then look forward to spending 30 minutes together every Wednesday morning in the Timmons library, pouring over a book at a pint-sized table. The student reads aloud while his or her mentor offers support, encouragement and the occasional assist with definitions, pronunciations and other literary puzzlements.
This special one-on-one time is all in the service of fostering a love of reading, says veteran Timmons teacher Michelle Spicuzza. “It was recognized that some students could benefit from having a reading mentor – someone other than a teacher or parent,” she explains. As opposed to rote reading exercises in the classroom, “the volunteers provide an authentic purpose for reading and practicing oral fluency. They listen to the students, provide feedback to them on how they read, and have a discussion with them about the content of the story.”
After volunteering at Timmons for nearly three years, Peggy Brooks echoes that analysis of the program’s aim. A former teacher and guidance counselor, the SFC resident recognizes the educational value of her efforts. “The extra attention we give to the students is very reinforcing,” Peggy says. “Just the fact that someone is taking the time to read with them, to demonstrate that reading is important, I think proves very valuable.”
In fact, nearly all the mentors can point proudly to progress among their young charges. “I mentored one little girl who told me when we started that she didn’t like to read,” recalls Literacy Mentor Carol Poe, a SFC resident who has been making the weekly trip to Timmons for almost five years. “At the end of the year, she wrote me a thank-you note saying she was starting actually to like reading! For me, that was very rewarding.”
The children recognize the bond as well. Just ask Jack Rottman, 8, who this year is being mentored by Peggy Brooks. “I like to read,” Jack says, looking up from his copy of Stanley: Flat Again, a popular children’s standard. “But usually when I try alone, it’s just not interesting. When I read with Mrs. Brooks, though, it gets a lot more interesting!”
Later, on the ride back to SFC, the mood is light and Peggy is beaming. “Oh, my goodness! Did you hear what Jack said?” she laughs with her fellow volunteers. “He made my day. I think I’ll go back next week!”
Fellow mentor Carol Poe joins in the laughter, although she sees a more serious side to the subject of volunteering – one that reflects the caring and commitment shared by all the SFC volunteers. “We at Judson are recognized so often for our arts programs and our amenities,” she says. “It’s great to be recognized sometimes for giving back.”