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Reading Buddies Is Making A Difference in West Dallas

21st Feb 2017 | Written by: Chrissie Ozuna

What do you do when your plans change in the middle of your journey? The Reading Buddies program at Amelia Earhart Learning Center is an excellent example of how changing your course sometimes works out for the better for our schools and ultimately the community. This is something that our Education Initiative, SOAR (Services Optimizing for Academic Reach) committee knows a lot about. Working alongside the states’ second largest school district can be both rewarding and challenging. Over the past 5 years we have learned to be a constant, yet flexible partner supporting the needs of our adopted SOAR schools Amelia Earhart Learning Center (AELC) and CF Carr Elementary.

The Origination of Reading Buddies

Back in 2014 in an empty classroom over the summer, SOAR committee members from Dallas ISD, Highland Park Presbyterian Church (HPPC), and Serve West Dallas met to plan for the new school year. HPPC spent the summer months recruiting volunteers for a reading intervention program that DISD announced right before the school year would not return. In its place was a new program that did not utilize volunteers. “We had about 30 volunteers from the church who signed up to read with a student and we wanted to make sure that still happened”, said MaryAnn Chaple, the HPPC liaison.

Our SOAR team began constructing a new program called Reading Buddies, a program that pairs a volunteer and a student together for 30 minutes one day a week. “Our goal early on was for volunteers to first bond with their student and build a level of trust that must be there for the student to feel comfortable to make mistakes, because when we make mistakes that’s when we are able to grow,” said Chrissie Ozuna, Serve West Dallas’ staff member who oversees the SOAR project.

In the program’s first year, 100% of 5th grade students and 42% of 4th grade students were matched and the remaining "unmatched" students met regularly in groups with a handful of volunteers. “Reading Buddies provides the students with an opportunity to break away from the normal daily schedule to have one-on- one time with a fun volunteer and a great book. It turns lunchtime into reading fun-time,” says Shaquella Jones, the AELC Community Liaison. At the end of the first 2 years both 4th and 5th grades have shown improvement in the percentage of students in Tier 1 (at or above grade level) and a decrease of the percentage of students in Tier 3 (reading 2 or more years behind).

Reading Buddies Now

Now in its third year, Reading Buddies is thriving and our volunteer numbers have grown to more than 50 from HPPC and the community. The school has set aside a dedicated classroom full of supplemental reading materials where volunteers and students spend their lunch talking about the past week and reading aloud to each other. The program was enthusiastically received by the volunteers who feel that “It’s an act of service, taking just a little bit of time to invest in somebody else really just shows love to them. It may not seem like a big dal to you but in the eyes of a child that’s a big deal that really represents the love of Christ to somebody else.”

One of our volunteers shared “I was a teacher in DISD before I had my children and my Reading Buddy student reminds me of my students.  Suzette (my Reading Buddy student) is eager to learn but struggles with reading.  She has made great progress, however, which gives me such joy. All year she has not been reading independently--until yesterday! She practically shouted words from a new book we’re reading.”



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