Volunteers to visit Riverside

Retired Senior Volunteer Program members are visiting Riverside Early Learning Center every Thursday for eight weeks to read its students.

“It’s called the Bookworms program,” Mark Gustafson, RSVP volunteer coordinator, said Friday. “We’re helping kindergarten kids and some from Head Start to improve their reading skills a lot.”

The program, piloted in March 2013 at Feelhaver Elementary School, aims to improve young students’ early literacy skills.

“Reading is such an important part of everybody’s life,” Gustafson said. “If we can help out some kids to get off on the right foot with their reading skills, that’s a great thing to do.”

According to Gustafson, the first day of this year’s program, featuring seven volunteer members, went well.

“I’ve spoke to a few volunteers who did it yesterday and they said they enjoyed it a great deal,” he said Friday. “And the kids seemed to enjoy it, too.”

The students are able to read at varying levels, Gustafson said.

“Some of them do pretty well,” he said. “There are some who are working on identifying their letters and haven’t really gotten into the reading program yet.”

In addition to recruiting volunteers for the program, Gustafson made the arrangements with Riverside ELC.

“I went over to the school and talked with the principal, got together with a couple of the teachers about what we can do, and they were enthusiastic about it,” he said. “We picked a day and a time to have the adults meet with the kids, and they have a particular room where they go and sit and read there for a few minutes.”

A senior volunteer reads first to a student a book from the school’s library, and then students take turns reading to the volunteer, with a conversation after.

“The teacher has generated some questions the adults can ask the kids to get some discussion going about what they read, what they heard. What did they learn and what did they like or didn’t like,” Gustafson said. “According to the teachers, that helped them to strengthen their reading skills by quite a bit.”

Gustafson enjoys seeing the students respond to the senior volunteers and develop an enthusiasm for reading.

“The kids enjoy it so much. They enjoy the special attention from an adult,” he said. “At Feelhaver last year, the adults would ask the kids questions about themselves, but then the kids were urged by the teacher to ask questions of the adults. One gal came up after one session and said, these little girls asked me where did you get that necklace and how much did it cost? She says, I’ve been wearing it so long, I don’t remember.”

RSVP will next visit Feelhaver for eight weeks starting April 1.