The Be A Reader (BEAR) Literacy Program is a community service project that is co-sponsored by the United Jewish/African American Federation of Tidewater. Literature is deeply treasured by Jewish Americans who have been known for centuries as the “People of the Book.” The purpose of this project is to help children acquire a love of books and reading that leads to academic achievement and personal success.
In the summer of 2000, the Jewish Federation volunteers contacted the principal of Birdneck Elemntary School. This school has an at-risk enrollment of 940 students that would greatly benefit from the BEAR tutoring program. BEAR was implemented in early October after the team captain, Gail Flax, an education studies professor of graduate students at Old Dominion University, trained volunteers.
The reading specialist at Birdneck Elementary School, Linda Pascarosa, gave a pre-tutoring inservice, where packets of tutoring materials were distributed to volunteers. Twenty-three volunteers comprised of 21 females and 2 males were paired with 18 second graders who were selected by 8 classroom teachers.
Some of the volunteers paired in teams to ensure that none of the weekly Tuesday one-hour training sessions would be missed. Each tutor team was assigned a child to work with throughout the entire school year. Tutors exchanged notes each week with the child’s classroom teacher who identified the areas in which the students needed help. In addition, the Jewish Federation leader coordinated with the reading specialists researching appropriately leveled reading materials to be used in the program. The Federation also purchased a new set of beginning chapter books to be used with the BEAR program.
The second grade classroom teachers communicate their enthusiasm and praise for the program often with the reading specialists. The students feel as if their tutors are a part of their extended family. They believe it is like having their very own aunt, uncle or grandparent there helping them at the school. The participants in the program enjoy the personal touch and individual attention, and their writing and reading grades have improved also.
The BEAR program has been a success as a result of consistent and conscientious volunteers. There has never been a week when one child had to go without their BEAR tutor. The tutors are serious and dedicated to the program; they feel as if they have adopted their student and do not want to let them down.
Next year, the BEAR program will be expanded to also accommodate third grade students. This will allow the students that are currently enrolled into the program to participate in follow-up tutoring while also enabling the new second graders to enter the program.