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Parker Elementary Program Instills a Love of Reading

By Angie Orenstein
Billerica@wickedlocal.com 

Posted Jun. 22, 2014 @ 2:00 pm 

From left, Annemarie Sullivan, Diana Rodriguez, and Paula Flannery.  Sullivan and Flannery are mentors from EMD Millipore who read to Diana's twin second graders at the Parker, Anthony and Thomas Rodriguez (pictured in front). WICKED LOCAL PHOTO/ANGIE ORENSTEIN

From left, Annemarie Sullivan, Diana Rodriguez, and Paula Flannery. Sullivan and Flannery are mentors from EMD Millipore who read to Diana’s twin second graders at the Parker, Anthony and Thomas Rodriguez (pictured in front). WICKED LOCAL PHOTO/ANGIE ORENSTEIN

 

Several Parker Elementary School students received certificates for their participation in Read to a Child, a national non-profit organization that pairs employees from local companies with elementary school children who could benefit from some extra support in reading.

This year, the second year the program has been in place at the Parker, there were 33 employees and 27 children taking part. Acting as mentors, the employees volunteer their time to come in once a week on a Thursday or Friday from October to June to read books to the children during their lunch period. The goal is to get the child to improve their reading skills, increase their vocabulary, and have someone to talk to and share ideas with one on one. They strive to keep the same mentor with the same child for the years they are with the program in order to encourage a close bond from which a love of reading can blossom.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Melissa Webber whose daughter, Kayleigh Malatesta, 7, is in the second grade at the Parker and has participated in the program for the two years. “Her reading has definitely improved. She loves it. It’s nice for her and the people who do it.”

The program, which is for students in grades 1 through 4, has been in place at the Vining Elementary School for 10 years and when the Parker opened their brand new building two years ago, principal Russell Marino decided to incorporate it there, too. About 50 Vining students were redistricted to the Parker, 10 of who were participating in the reading program. Marino said there are 456 students at the Parker, 320 of which are in grades 1 through 4 and he said he hopes the program will expand in years to come, but they need more mentors to volunteer.

“This really is such an important program. I wish every school could have it because every child, from those who struggle to those who excel, could use another grown up in their life,” said Marino.

At and end-of-the-year ceremony held at the Parker on June 12, Linda Winin, program manager, Kaela Vronsky, vice-president of programs, and Phil Harrell, national board member from Read to a Child joined Marino and Read to a Child’s School Coordinator Judy Tolan, in presenting students with certificates and thanking the teachers, parents, and the mentors, who come from Mitre, RSA, EMD Millipore, EMD Serono, Cabot Corporation, and Kofax.

“Thank you for sharing your passion for reading and thank you for making a difference,” said Tolan, who pairs students with mentors, helps select reading material, and oversees the program at the Parker.

Tolan said they have both male and female mentors and they range from those fresh out of college looking to do some community service work to older people whose children have grown up and moved out of the house. She meets with each mentor and each student who has been recommended by a teacher to take part in the program and tries to match up personality types.

Tolan said she had asked the kids how they feel about Read to a Child and many said, “Happy,” “excited,” “thrilled,” and “proud.” She said it’s so fun to listen to the conversations between students and mentors and she gets a kick out of hearing some of the mentors change their voices when they’re reading in order to sound more like the character.

“They make the books come alive for the students and I hear the mentors laugh as much as the kids,” she said.

The boys and girls had a chance to tell the audience some of their favorite books and these included: “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” “Magic Tree House,” “Dork Diaries,” and “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” The books can be short books or chapter books that they continue reading together week after week and they can be brought in by the student or the mentor, or chosen from a book cart with up to date children’s literature provided by Read to a Child.

“This is the highlight of my week. I love to see the smiles on their faces,” said Paula Flannery, a mentor from EMD Millipore who reads to second grader Thomas Rodriguez.

Anna Chang, a mentor from RSA smiled at her student, first grader Isaiah Florival, who hid shyly behind a “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book. “I love kids. I thought it would be a good opportunity,” she said about the program.

As program manager, Winin approaches local businesses and asks them if they would be interested in having their employees take part in the program. In the meantime, teachers are always on the lookout for students who may have some difficulties with reading, English is their second language, or they lack resources or people at home who have time to read to them. These children are priorities for taking part in the program.

Read to a Child’s program in greater Boston has been in place for 11 years. In the 2013/14 school year, it served more than 700 children in 16 schools in Massachusetts, including the Parker, where Winin said they have been warmly welcomed and very successful. She talked about the importance of longevity when it comes to the mentors and named three people in the room who have been volunteering with the Boston program for four, eight, and 11 years. She reminded the children to visit their local library and keep reading over the summer.

Go to www.readtoachild.org for more information or to learn how you can help.