Reading Buddy celebrates second generation with second-graders
November 8, 2011
By Tom Corrigan
Briarwood Elementary School volunteer looks back on 15 years
“My mother had been a second-grade teacher,” said Betty Gering, who at 76 years of age is entering her 15th year of serving as a Reading Buddy to youngsters at Briarwood Elementary School.
Gering said she continues to act as a sort of in-school tutor to second-graders at Briarwood partly to honor the memory of her mother. But there are other reasons as well.
“I love the second-graders,” Gering said. “Their little minds are just like sponges.”
Once a week, Gering and about 15 other volunteers, mostly senior citizens, travel to Briarwood and each spends time with three second-graders. Those students get about 15 minutes of attention apiece.
Gering’s continued allegiance to Briarwood is all the more remarkable as she drives in weekly from the retirement community in Auburn where she lives with her husband of 60 years. And she said she plans to keep making the trip for as long as possible.
“The kids get excited to see their Reading Buddies,” said Leslie Smith, an educational assistant at Briarwood, who serves as a learning partnership developer and who runs the Reading Buddies program.
To the best of her knowledge, Reading Buddies is unique in the Issaquah School District, Smith added.
The program was founded by a former Briarwood principal who just happened to be a reading specialist. Largely based on ability, Briarwood’s second-grade teachers each pick 15 students to be involved with Reading Buddies.
Gering began volunteering at Briarwood when she lived much closer to the school. When she and her husband made the move to Auburn five years ago, she decided to continue her volunteer work.
“It’s a pleasure, it’s a joy in my life,” said Gering, who added that a friend — who still volunteers at the school herself — talked her into becoming a Reading Buddy after Gering retired from a retail stationery store where she had worked for 30 years.
Smith said students are paired with the same Reading Buddy for the course of one school year. Gering said she definitely gets to be friends with the children.
“Eventually, they tell us about what they want for Christmas or what they did over the summer,” Gering said. “It’s like having an extra set of grandkids.”
Over the years, Gering said there have been students that stand out in her mind. She said some youngsters simply find reading intimidating.
“I had one little boy who was really having trouble in the beginning,” Gering said. “All of a sudden he just caught on … It was a pleasure to see him go from fearing reading to really enjoying it.”
The students pick the books they want to read.
“The boys still like to read about dinosaurs, of course,” Gering said.
Girls often pick fantasy stories, she added.
If a student finds a favorite book he or she wants to reread, that’s fine.
“The idea is just to get them to read,” Gering said. “That is so important.”
Gering said she grew up with books in her home, and that her mother had her and her siblings read if ever they expressed boredom.
Smith said Reading Buddy volunteers are asked to emphasize reading comprehension, making sure students actually understand what they are reading. Still, if, on some days, a student just doesn’t want to read, sometimes the Reading Buddies will read to them. Or they and the student will take turns reading every other page of a book. Sometimes, the books are simply set aside and the children and their Buddies play games, such as bingo with candy for markers.
“Our volunteers love it just as much as our kids,” Smith said of the overall program.
Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.