“Today I will fly,” said Dallas elementary student Jacob Baur as he moves his finger, line by line, across the pages of one of his favourite books.
“Perfect,” says his reading buddy Edna Park, a retired government worker who has volunteered with School District 73’s One to One reading program for the past five years.
The program involves patient and attentive volunteers tutoring students who read below their grade level.
Over 12 weeks, each tutor reads with three students once per week for 30 minutes. This year, the program is celebrating 20 years of operation in the school district.
The goal is to get kids excited about reading by building their confidence.
“I do, I really do like reading now,” said Jacob. “It really helped me focus. It really did.”
Fiona Clare, literacy outreach co-ordinator for the One to One program, told KTW friendships often form between students and tutors, who are usually ordinary members of the community and voracious readers.
“It’s more than just reading, it’s also mentoring,” Clare said.
Volunteers undergo a three-hour training session before being paired up and often use a variety of techniques to get students comfortable with reading, such as taking turns reading pages aloud.
“Break it down into smaller parts if you have to,” first-time One to One volunteer Courtney Windross tells her student, Robyn Ashton, as she tries to sound out a word.
“Fish … f-fin … fin-ished, finished,” says Ashton.
“There you go,” Windross replies.
As a volunteer, Windross, who has a son in Grade 1 at the school, is carrying on a family tradition.
“I used to go Dallas [elementary] and my mom used to come read, which would have been before the One to One program, so when I got the email that they were looking for volunteers, it seemed right up my alley — full circle,” she said.
Robyn admits she wasn’t the best reader before joining the program, but now enjoys her books a lot more.
“Now you know the words, so you can just keep on reading and reading,” she says.
Robyn’s mother, Stacy Ashton, says she has noticed a big improvement in her daughter’s reading ability, along with an expression of pride in her accomplishments.
“The volunteers really make an impression on the kids,” she says.
Park describes the experience of being a volunteer as rewarding.
“It’s fun for us to watch the youngsters go from really hesitant — because when they first meet you, they’re a little shy — and then, within a matter of a few short weeks, light up,” Park said.
Windross says the progress her students made throughout the previous school year was quite evident.
“I felt like we were making a difference here because books that were tripping them up in October, they were flying through by May,” Windross says, adding she hopes the students have developed a love for reading.
One to One has grown in the school district since its humble beginnings in 1998.
At that time, the program operated in just seven schools, but today it can be found in 22 of 33 of the schools in the district.
“The only way we can get better at reading is by reading,” Clare said.
The next session of the One to One reading program begins in October.
On Sept. 26, as part of Raise A Reader, copies of KTW will be sold all locations across the city, with money collected going to fund literacy programs in Kamloops.