TROY — Troy High School students in the Reading Buddies program give the gift of their time all school year long.
This week, the students celebrated the season with a special pizza party and presented their Reading Buddies with holiday-themed books and a special gift to their first-grade students.
Concord Elementary School first-grade teacher Myra Sanders started the Reading Buddies program in 2008. The program pairs a Troy High School student with a first grader to read once a week, each week, during the school year.
“It starts off with the high school kids thinking they are going to be the ones giving, but it turns out the high school kids get as much out of it as the little ones do,” Sanders said. “We started with 17 kids and now we are up to 125 high school kids. They do a great job and I’m so proud of all of them.”
Sanders started the program at Concord when her son Brad — then a student at Troy High School — was looking for a way to fulfill a volunteer service project. Sanders came up with the idea of having her son and some of his friends come to her classroom and read with her students on a one-on-one basis.
Sanders’ son Matt, a senior, continues the tradition of participating in the program, recruiting his friends to participate along the way.
The high school students meet with their buddies after Troy High School has dismissed for the day, but while school still is in session at Concord.
Mark Scordia and Henry Shaneyfelt, seniors, signed up for his second year of Reading Buddies. This year they were paired up with Anderson Shuman.
“It’s fun to teach them to read. The best part is the connection with the kids,” Shaneyfelt said. “Becoming a good reader is a really important skill and seeing that ability increase for him is the best.”
Anderson said his favorite day is Reading Buddies day.
“The connection we have with the kids is amazing and the more you do it, the more you see it makes an actual difference,” Scordia said. “I actually had Anderson’s brother two years ago, so that’s been fun.”
Sanders said the majority of students participate in Reading Buddies for the joy of working with children, although seniors get volunteer hours, but their time exceeds the graduation requirement.
“It’s an enjoyable way to get (volunteer hours) out of the way,” Scordia said.
Mia Fuentes, 7, worked on her word search with her two Reading Buddies senior Katie Demeo and junior Jaclyn Smith.
“We read together,” Mia said. “I just like reading with them at the end of the day. Jacyln comes Friday and and Katie comes on Thursday.”
“This is my third year. I just love seeing the kids get better at reading. Every time we come in they keep improving,” Demeo said. “They seem to enjoy it so that’s the best part.”
Mia’s mother Holly said the program adds a special part to her daughter’s day.
“She’ll come home and tell us about her Reading Buddies. It adds something extra and she’s excited every time they come — it makes her happy,” Fuentes shared. “I think it’s great for the high schoolers, too. It makes them step out of their world and work with these little kids so it’s great for everybody.”
Students dedicate one hour after school per week and sign a contract to commit to the program. Each student attends a summer training meeting. Special events include an end-of-the-year luau for students as well as the Christmas party. The program has been such a hit with high school students, Sanders had to turn several high school students away this year. Sanders said there are 25 more high school kids than first graders, so some children have two Reading Buddies to help improve their reading skills each week.
Reading Buddies is supported by the Troy Foundation’s Apple Grant program, Concord PTO, Project GIFT-Teen Leadership Troy Grant, 2nd & 7 Foundation, Papa John’s, Chipotle, and Tim Horton’s.
Sanders also noted the assistance and support from the Concord Elementary and Troy High School administrators and high school coaches.
Follow Melanie Yingst on Twitter @Troydailynews