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Monday, September 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane County Library District helping build love of books through Reading Buddy program for children

Karen Shill, right, reads with 3rd grader, Ashlan Burnham during an after school reading program on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, at Pasadena Elementary School in Spokane Valley, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Karen Shill, right, reads with 3rd grader, Ashlan Burnham during an after school reading program on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, at Pasadena Elementary School in Spokane Valley, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The sound of pages turning and the buzz of happy readers filled a Pasadena Park Elementary classroom recently.

But this wasn’t a required reading or language arts class.It was the weekly after-school meeting of the Reading Buddy Program.

Sponsored by Spokane County Library District, the Reading Buddy Program pairs adult volunteers with students at area elementary schools.

Each week volunteers meet with students and spend 45 minutes reading one-on-one with them.

“The Spokane County Library District is aware of the numerous students in need of intervention resources and pairing them with volunteers to form positive relationships around reading fulfills needs of the volunteers, as well as meeting student needs,” said Melanie Boerner, literacy program coordinator for SCLD. “It’s the perfect match of our volunteers, who desire to make a difference in their community, and the library’s mission of empowering people to learn, explore and succeed.”

At Pasadena Park, children choose books from a bright green cart. The books, donated by a local credit union, stay at the school. The library district provides snacks.

Maycee Kelly, 8, eagerly read “Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed” to her reading buddy, Linda Winfrey.

“Reading is my favorite thing to do!” Maycee said.

Winfrey smiled and pulled a book out of her purse. It was “Dogman” by Dav Pilkey.

“Maycee recommended it,” Winfrey said.

Across the room, Ashlan Burnham, 9, read a Junie B. Jones book to her reading buddy, Karen Shill.

“I like Junie B. Jones because she’s funny and sassy,” Ashlan said.

Shill has been volunteering with the program for two years.

“I have a lifelong love of libraries and reading,” she said. “This reminds me of when I was a child and how much reading meant to me, especially when an adult paid attention to me.”

That focused attention is an important part of the program.

“There’s been so much excitement around the Reading Buddy program. We’ve had lots of interest from the kids, and parents have been extremely supportive,” said Erin Maier, reading interventionist at Pasadena Park. “How many times a day do kids get adults to simply listen to them?”

The relaxed setting takes pressure off children who may struggle with reading. The children choose the books and decide if they want to read or be read to. There’s no grading, just the satisfaction of finishing a book they’ve enjoyed.

“At the orientation they told us we’re here to make reading fun for the kids. I like that,” said volunteer Janni Hills.

Rowan Bean, 9, grabbed a Hardy Boys classic, “The Tower Treasure.”

“I like it a lot!” he said of the after-school program.

He carefully sounded out the word “hobnob.”

“Do you know what hobnob means?” asked his reading buddy, Mike Vennum.

Rowan shook his head, and Vennum explained the meaning of the word.

“I’m a retired teacher,” said Vennum.

He grinned.

“These kids are easier than high school kids.”

Boerner said they’re always looking for more volunteers. Women make up the majority, but they’d love to have more men involved.

The Ready Buddy program operates three eight-week sessions, and volunteers read for 45 minutes, once a week with kids at their assigned school.

At Pasadena Park, Maier looked at the engaged, happy readers, carefully turning pages while their reading buddies offered gentle encouragement.

“This partnership just magically works,” she said. “This is the best 45 minutes of my day.”

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