More Than Words

More Than Words

Adult Reading Buddies Enhance Communication, Literacy Skills in Children

By Susan Cunningham

“Amazing and spectacular!” That’s what students Reilly Mitchell, Carter Stevens, and Lauren Fellows say about the EverybodyWinsVT Power Lunch at Bluff Elementary School in Claremont, N.H.

What is the Power Lunch? Simply put, the program is about discovery. Students explore the vast literary world with an adult volunteer as their guide. The adventure consists of one lunch hour per week when a child is partnered with an adult reading buddy. The Power Lunch provides a relaxed setting where students and mentors can share books and good conversation. The destination varies student by student, but the result is a love for reading and the creation of positive relationships — a magical combination for students and mentors.

Sharing Stories

Fourth grader, Reilly, is in her second year with the Power Lunch program. She likes to read Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Armstrong and recently tackled the book Shiloh by Phyliss Reynolds Naylor with her reading buddy. Reilly enjoys “having fun and reading animal books.” Their lunch hour begins with a recap of Reilly’s activities over the past week with a special focus on her pets.

Carter, another fourth grader, is also a return student. He looks forward to seeing his mentor every Friday. Before reading, they catch up on the past week’s events. Carter begins the hour by reading, but when the lunch bell sounds his reading buddy takes over while he eats. One of his favorite book series is I Survived by Lauren Tarshis. When asked what he likes best about the Power Lunch and his mentor, Carter says, “I like that I get to see him every Friday and we talk before we read.”

Fifth grader Lauren and her mentor take turns reading chapter books and sharing the occasional game of hangman. The Power Lunch has increased her interest in reading at home. According to Lauren, the program “gets me interested in new topics.” When asked what she likes about spending time her with reading buddy, Lauren says, “He is nice and makes me laugh.”

For more than nine years, the Power Lunch has given Bluff students like Lauren, Reilly and Carter the opportunity to nurture their love for reading. For many years, a now-retired teacher, Mrs. Cosken, spearheaded the program. Since her retirement two years ago, second grade teacher, Mrs. Yates, has dedicated her time to the program’s success.

Choosing Reading Over Recess

The Power Lunch is not tutoring or an extension of classroom learning. However, the time spent reading reinforces and expands literary skills. Sometimes a teacher recommends a student for the program, but many kids enthusiastically volunteer, foregoing their recess to spend the hour reading and talking with their buddy.

According to Beth Wallace, Executive Director of EverybodyWinsVT, “having conversations back and forth is a part of literacy.” The conversations help children become comfortable with language and expand their vocabulary, a benefit to increasing literacy.

The 2014-2015 school year has brought challenges for the Bluff Power Lunch. Last year’s program had 29 mentors spread across two days of reading. Logistical challenges resulted in the loss of a reading day and for the first half of the year only 15 mentors could be accommodated.

The Bluff School received tremendously good news as the students headed into December break: a $5,000 grant from the NH Charitable Foundation, allowing for additional help with the program and the return of the second reading day. With the extra day, more mentors can volunteer for the Power Lunch. When Wallace announced the grant during a December Power Lunch, mentors and children cheered.

Best Buds

Who makes a good mentor? Volunteers are not required to have a background in education. Enjoying children, wanting to create friendships and being willing to donate the time is all that is needed. The time spent with a positive role model fosters vital connections for a child. Typical volunteers include former teachers, local business people, grandparents and many other community members with the desire to help.

In addition to the Bluff School, the EverybodyWinsVT Power Lunch program can be found in 25 schools in Vermont with approximately 700 students enjoying their reading adventures. The program is successful due to support from local communities and businesses. In Claremont, several employers contribute funds and allow their employees the time to volunteer.

Whether donating time or money, every bit of support helps the program succeed. Mentors are always needed and a great way to give back to your community. Remember, just one hour a week can make a difference for a child!

Susan Cunningham is the mother of two daughters and grandmother of two. She lives in Lebanon, N.H., with her husband, teenage daughter and their yellow Labrador retriever puppy. She loves to travel, hike, read and, of course, write. Susan is in the final stages of releasing her first young adult fantasy novel.

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