Reading Buddies Promotes Connection
Reading Buddies Promotes Connection

As the digital age continues its progressive march forward, more and more people are becoming "skimmers," rather than deep readers, and the traditional printed book continues to gather dust on the shelf. Or so we have been told.

But, popular theory doesn't always rule the day as witnessed by the enthusiasm and excitement at Oaks Christian School over the reading buddy program launched earlier this academic this year.

"It's great to get back over to the middle school campus where I was in eighth grade and meet a fifth-grader and help him read. To read books together and learn together is a really fun experience." said junior Brenden Pieczynski whose reading buddy is Tristan Williams.

The brain child of Academy V teacher Mary Wilson and high school English teacher Jenna Duby, the reading buddy program pairs high school juniors with fifth-graders for scheduled reading time. Throughout the year, buddies have been reading books of their choice, fifth grade literature novels, and taking trips to the library to find books enjoyed by the juniors when they were in elementary school. The unique connection is that the junior class Duby teaches was Wilson's very first group of sixth grade history students at Oaks Christian.

"My heart was full of joy watching my former and current students spend time together," said Wilson. "Our hope is that this is going to be a great opportunity to not only encourage a love of reading for all students, but also allow these high school students to develop leadership roles on campus."

A few weeks ago, the juniors wrote introductory letters to the fifth grade students, who replied back with great excitement. After their first initial meeting, they have gotten to know each other and even created "secret" handshakes they use to greet each other on campus. The program has 17 groups in different configurations such as one junior with one or two little buddies or one junior with three or four little buddies.

The little buddies have expressed excitement about seeing their big buddies at athletic events, at assemblies and around campus. As the high school students walk into the middle school to meet their buddies, they reminisce about their experiences in the middle school and marvel at how they once sat in those same seats.

"I think it's totally fun to connect with the fifth-graders. I remember when I was in fifth grade and now I see how I was similar to them and how I am different now, and how I can teach them because of that," said junior Ava Daikeler. Her little buddies are Sarah Spears, Samantha Bespalov and Savannah Knapp. They recently enjoyed reading A Secret.

Indeed, research has shown reading buddy programs to be a symbiotic relationship. According to a United States Department of Education study reported by Teacher Vision, reading buddy programs can improve academic performance by 25 percent as compared to 12 percent for those not in a program; improve classroom behavior by 16 percent compared to 3 percent not in a program, and increase enjoyment of reading by 55 percent as compared to 31 percent for those not in a program.

But beyond the statistics, the intangible benefits of such a program encompass the human connection made between students who do not normally associate in the same circles. Adolescents skeptical of reading to a younger student can gain self-confidence, reading skills, academic growth and a new desire to read as they thrive on being a role model. Little buddies, of course, can benefit from having positive interaction with an older student, develop confidence talking to older students, and also feel affirmed that a "big kid" is interested in their middle school life.

Bespalov reflects on the experience in Daikeler's group, "It's been really great because we can find out what the high school kids are reading and see what they like to read. It gives you an opportunity to interact with them because we don't get to see them a lot on our campus."

Pieczynski plays soccer and has been able to share his love of the sport with his little buddy Tristan Williams as they read through a biography about soccer player Lionel Messi.

"You have a person that is going to help you and you can learn from what they know," said Williams. Reading through a documentary with a big buddy has helped him "figure out the big words."

For Jack Fasching, the book itself doesn't matter as much as the experience of sharing a story he loves-Island of the Blue Dolphin-with older student Ryan Nader.

"What I like is reading books I have already read with Ryan here, and then him remembering it" he shared.

Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, the goal of the program is to develop a lifelong love of reading that will benefit both little buddies and big buddies develop academically and in character.

"We want all of our students from elementary to high school to grow to love reading. When we see people we admire modeling a certain behavior, we are more likely to engage in it ourselves! So, we wanted to give our high school students an opportunity to share how important it is to read with a group of younger students who enthusiastically welcome it. The high school students realize the great responsibility they have in leading the younger Lions to value everything that books have to offer us," said Duby.