Mentors Make Books Come to Life

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Front Page / Feb. 16, 2012 11:32am EST

‘Everybody Wins’ In Reading Program
By Dian Parker


A mentor helps a young girl with her reading in the library at Chelsea Elementary School. (Herald / Dian Parker) A mentor helps a young girl with her reading in the library at Chelsea Elementary School. (Herald / Dian Parker) Stories of dinosaurs and but­terflies, talking pigs and literate mice. Elephants in bow ties. Child detectives.

Such stories offer unknown worlds and adven­tures. They nourish a growing child’s dream and enlarge the child’s ima­ination. To encourage this valuable process, every week during the school year, Tunbridge, Chelsea and Westshire Schools offer a reading program called “Every­body Wins!” Adult volunteers in the community are paired with students, grades 2-5, to read during the child’s lunch hour.

Walking into one of these schools during this time period is to enter a whirlwind of enthus­iasm and delight. Every mentor pair hovers over a book; reading to one another, discussing, laugh­ing, and exclaiming.

Last week, the child I mentor brought in two 3D books from home along with 3D glasses for each of us. We read about giant squid, eels, sharks and whales, as they popped out of the books. We ooed and ahhed, then moved on to her favorite adventure series involving Merlin and the quest to solve his puzzles, replete with sea serpents and selkies.

I look forward to my Thursdays with Amber Boles as much as she does with me. She gets to read and be filled with delight. I too get to read and be filled with delight. Together we discover books we had never known of before, and every week is filled with awe at the power of a good story.

Tunbridge Central School started the mentor program in 2004. Currently 38 mentor pairs meet every Monday and Thurs­day. Eight of their men­tors have been reading for every one of those eight years.

At the Chelsea School, there are 10 mentors and students reading ev­ery Wednesday. There are 19 men­tor pairs with students participat­ing from the Westshire Elementary School.

“Everybody Wins!” began with its first two school sites in 2000. Pres­ently there are 22 schools and 600 students participating throughout Vermont, including six schools in this region.

Tintin in Tunbridge

At Tunbridge Central School, Matt Mulvy and his mentor, John O’Brien, have been reading “The Adventures of Tintin” series. Last year they read “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” Because Matt loves the Japanese Manga nov­els, it made sense to O’Brien to introduce his student to Tin Tin, one of his own favorite books when he was a child.

O’Brien said of Matt, “He is hugely enthusiastic about draw­ing. It just made sense to read graphic novels. I’ve seen great improvement in his reading during our three years together.”

Vermont Law School student Trevor Kinahan, started mentor­ing this year at the Chelsea School once a week with his student, Jon Hood, a third grader. They are currently engaged with the “Flat Stanley” se­ries because Jon loves adventure.

“Just in the last few months I have seen improvement in Jon’s reading,” Kinahan said. “He pauses now after periods and uses more intonation to tell the story. His comprehension and vocabulary have definitely im­proved.”

At the Chelsea School, Walter Rockwood and Jean Peterson, hus­band and wife, have been mentor­ing for the past five years. Pat Ladd has been the mentor for Austin Mc­Coullogh for two years. Ladd does it because “It uplifts me” and Aus­tin does it because “I like reading, especially about oceanology and monsterology.”

Wendy Forbes, mentor, and Lou­ise Torres, 4th grader, are reading Roald Dahl. “It’s really fun to read with Wendy,” Louise said. “She agrees with me about what we read. I like funny things, and when I grow up I want to be a real comedian. Also a trumpet player, an artist, and a real estate agent.”

Mindy Farnham, Chelsea’s school coordinator for the men­tor program, says the program helps to connect community members with the schools on a regular basis. “Reading out loud helps reading flu­ency,” she added.

Elaine Howe, the librarian and the mentor coordinator in Tun­bridge, agreed.

“I love to walk around the li­brary and listen to the excite­ment of everyone reading,” she said. “It’s amazing how intently these kids can focus for one hour. Getting that oneon one attention is so important.”

Positive Results

Statistics seem to confirm this. In the 2010-2011 school year, 68% of the teachers and 68% of the par­ents reported that stu­dents showed greater enthu­siasm for reading. 76% of the students said they read more, and 89% said they read better, be­cause of their mentors.

Each mentor is recruited and trained by the Upper Valley Busi­ness and Education Partner­ship program manager Jennifer Thy­gesen, herself a mentor. Amy Cun­ningham is the executive director of EW! In Vermont.

Research shows that children who read well tend to achieve more academically, enjoy school more, and stay in school. And studies in­dicate that children who have ben­efited from the mentor experience tend to do better in school, stay in school, have a better sense of their place and importance as commu­nity members, have better relation -ships at home, have higher selfesteem, avoid risky behaviors, and become volunteers as adults.

Community members become more engaged and have a great­er understanding of their local schools.

The schools gain greater sup­port and are better equipped to help chil­dren succeed.

Students gain self-confidence and important reading skills.

No wonder it’s called “Every­body Wins!”

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