Just Listen

Listening conveys respect. Respect empowers. Power begets change. Recently, I had the privilege of observing subtle but important transformations occur when a few adults took a few minutes to truly listen to a few beginning readers read.

A Reading Buddy is a community volunteer who makes a commitment to show up at school once a week to listen to a child read. Teachers identify struggling second graders for the program. The books themselves are small with simple sentences and are arranged by level of difficulty. The children each read at their own instructional level and the Buddy’s goal is to ease them along to increasingly difficult books until the child is comfortable reading at grade level. The morning I spent at Central recently was so inspiring that it became the highlight of my week.

Together We Raise Readers

I got to listen in as five Reading Buddies, Carol Winkler, Linda Buttram, JoAnn Ramirez, Bobbie Kopczewski, and Judith Kirkpatrick each huddled with their own second grade buddy. The library was cozy, the buddies were happily engaged with each other and animated book conversations filled the air.

As I made my way around the room, it was the conversations that caught my attention. At one table a little girl continually struggled with the word “through.” Her Buddy’s active listening manifested itself in creating gestures to imprint the meaning of that pesky preposition. A little ways away a boy finished his book about horses. He and his buddy shared rapt attention as they imagined the fun of owning a horse, the reality of the expense of feeding one, and a discussion of the differences between a farm and a ranch. Another reader was much less enthused about what she was reading that day. Her Buddy engaged her in verbalizing her specific objections and offered to bring a choice of two new books next time they meet. These were not prepared lessons but genuine conversations that grew out of the simple yet elegant act of listening.

Although some Reading Buddies are grandmothers or retired teachers, experience alone does not seem to be the defining feature of success.

Juanis Morales, Central’s librarian, says the key is the volunteers’ enthusiasm and dedication. “The children are always happy to see them.”

Ramirez sums up her Reading Buddy experience this way, “Working with these children one on one for the full school year is a pleasure for me. We build a relationship and mutual trust. My goal is not just to help them to read better but to make sure that they understand what they are reading. Once they realize that we are all teachers to each other they feel valued and important. They are so smart and only need a little encouragement and someone to listen to them. The best part is when they feel success; then I feel I have succeeded too.”

Share a book, Share your passion

Passion for reading permeates the entire school. Coach Tommy Esparza recalls his own childhood excitement whenever the Book Mobile arrived in Deming. That joy has stayed with him and grown into the creation of a school book mobile. With help from teachers Eunice Zemek and Ray Montes, an inside school book bus was created on a cart. The Book Bus operates on a Read One/Leave One basis. Children are encouraged to exchange the books they are no longer reading for new ones. Teachers make sure that all children get to participate. The cart moves around the school and is featured on the morning in-house student news broadcast. Zemek keeps the shelves full with book donations from parents, COAS, St. Paul’s Church, neighbors and neighborhood businesses.

Central’s adults aren’t left out of the book exchange fun either. NMSU Professor Mary Fahrenbruck envisioned a Little Library for Central’s adults as well. Students at Mesilla Valley Alternative Middle School created a weather-proof box to stand outside the school so parents could enjoy browsing for books and magazines when they pick up and drop off their kids. Lovingly maintained by school staff members, the Little Library box holds a shelf full of magazines and another shelf for books. While I was there, a mom stopped at the box. She checked out the latest offerings and told me she uses the Little Library often and especially enjoys the magazines.

I wondered if this kind of outdoor honor system is hard to maintain. Coach Esparza tells me that there is upkeep involved. He keeps an eye out for inappropriate material and the structure is occasionally moved inside for repairs.

Jan Reed coordinates Reading Buddies at Central, Alameda, Highlands, and Fairacres Elementary Schools. Janet Jaquez created the Reading Buddies model in Las Cruces and coordinates the program at Mesilla Park. To volunteer or to start a similar program contact Jan Reed at jgreed31@msn.com

If you host a Little Library or are involved in other community projects that promote literacy please share your information at roriecrf@gmail.com