By David Fong
TROY — They came offering their time and friendship.
With each turn of the page, however, they found they were taking away as much as they were giving.
“It starts off with the high school kids thinking they are going to be the ones giving, but it turns out the high school kids get as much out of it as the little ones do,” said Myra Sanders, the first-grade teacher at Concord Elementary School and founder of Reading Buddies, a program that sees Troy High School students partner up with a Concord first grader and read with them once a week. “The high school kids absolutely love it.”
Sanders started the program at Concord in 2008 when her son Brad — then a student at Troy High School — was looking for a way to fulfill a volunteer service project. Sanders came up with the idea of having her son and some of his friends come to her classroom and read with her students on a one-on-one basis.
“I think it’s great when we can get teenagers involved with little people,” Sanders said. “I think there’s kind of a natural hero worship there to begin with. I know when the football players come in wearing their jerseys, you should see the looks on the kids’ faces. It’s just the neatest thing.”
That first year, Sanders didn’t have enough volunteers to assign a high school student to each of her first graders. The program has grown every year since then, however, and now not only does Sanders have enough high school students for all of her students, but there are enough volunteers for all five of Concord’s first-grade classrooms.
“I think it’s a great program,” Troy High School principal William Overla said. “The neat thing about it is there’s not only the reading, but it’s also an opportunity for our kids to be a role model and a mentor.”
All of the high school students who participate in the Reading Buddies program donate their time to do so. The high school students meet with their buddies after Troy High School has dismissed for the day, but while school still is in session at Concord.
“It’s mostly juniors and seniors, although we do have some sophomores — the key thing is transportation; they have to be able to get themselves here,” Sanders said. “We are looking for really mature kids. We have them sign an intent form to commit to one day a week, every week, for the entire year. There is nothing worse than seeing the pitiful look on a 6-year-old’s face when their reading buddy doesn’t show up.
“It takes a special dedication on the part of the high school student to sign up for this program. We do have a summer training meeting, a Christmas party and a luau at the end of the year. The coaches and teachers at the high school have been tremendous — a lot of the coaches have been willing to start their practices late on Fridays so the Reading Buddies can get there on time.”
Sanders said she hopes to continue to see the program grow in the coming years.
“I would love to see this expand to other schools,” she said. “And in a few years, I’d love it if some of my former students who had reading buddies would come back and be reading buddies themselves. That’s when the whole cycle would be complete.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong