Judy Babcock has been a literacy volunteer for the BookPALS (Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools) Program for more than three years. BookPALS, one of the fastest growing literacy programs in the country, is an all-volunteer program administered by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, the charitable, educational and humanitarian arm of the Screen Actors Guild.
Babcock is an active BooKPAL who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to stimulate children’s interest in reading and to encourage them to read on their own. Not only does Babcock read to and mentor more than 500 “at-risk” children every week of the school year, she also facilitates Accelerated Reader Programs, Reading is Fundamental Projects and Family Reading Programs. She does all of this voluntarily, without benefit of salary or stipend.
As a retired drama teacher and performer, Babcock knows intuitively how to communicate her love of books to children. She often dresses in character, sings and “performs” the stories, and uses props and interactive books to engage the children. Teachers say she nurtures language skills and increases literacy. The children say she offers them something that is FUN – being read to by a performer who can really make stories come alive! It is clear that Babcock firmly believes that every child should get the same chance for success. Babcock may not always realize it, but the fact that she continues to go to schools and reliably “deliver” drama and excitement through reading adds to the children’s inner motivation to learn how to read.
Sadly, the children in Florida have scored at the bottom of the list of states across the nation in literacy. More than half of Florida’s fourth graders read below their grade level. Children who cannot read independently by the end of third grade have greatly diminished chances of ever catching up; they face higher risks of delinquency and dropping out. This problem adversely affects the community. Low literacy skills weaken the economy, contribute significantly to the crime rate, and increase the need for higher taxes to sustain social services for the chronically unemployed.
As a BookPAL volunteer, Babcock is working the front lines to combat illiteracy and the problems it creates, particularly in at-risk, underprivileged communities. Children at the early elementary school levels are just beginning to develop reading skills. Reading is often very hard work for the children in the program. Babcock’s role as reader and storyteller sometimes contrasts sharply with some of the children’s own felt experiences of grappling to learn basic reading skills. Because Babcock reads aloud, she makes it easier for children to grasp the basic idea that sounds and written symbols correspond to each other. Babcock helps bridge the gap between words on the page and words that are spoken and make sense. She is showing and telling at the same time. Babcock is a resource for children who need encouragement to keep working on breaking the reading code.