In 1998 the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Monmouth County, New Jersey designed and initiated a shared-reading program involving eight caring volunteers working with 40 first-grade students. Since that time the Reading Buddies Program has evolved into a dynamic program involving 225+ adults interacting with 1400 preschool, kindergarten, first and second-graders in 15 area elementary schools. Three of the original readers are still participating in the program after 5 years.
It has been proven that reading aloud to children on a daily basis increases listening skills, builds language comprehension and improves attitudes toward reading. This increased level of listening and comprehension skills is the basis for mastering speaking and writing skills. Schools with low reading scores are targeted for participation in the program.
On a weekly basis, trained volunteer readers maintain a ratio of one reader per four students providing shared-reading sessions from October to May. Mirroring a mentoring program, the Reading Buddy continues with the same group of children for the entire school year. At all times the volunteer readers/ students remain under the supervision of the classroom teachers ensuring the integrity of the program. The program is considered an integral part of the school language arts program. This substantive program has resulted in an increased level of enthusiasm and interest in reading, often resulting in improved reading scores.
From President and Mrs. George W. Bush to Governor and Mrs. James F. McGreevey, increased emphasis has been placed on the importance of building literacy skills. Reading levels in New Jersey schools lag behind other areas, necessitating increased community involvement to provide positive role models who emphasize the importance and joy of reading. By providing trained, caring volunteers in the classrooms on a consistent basis, the students begin to feel empowered and practice newly-learned reading skills in a safe, caring setting. The Reading Buddies, representing a variety of careers and ages, are able to model for the children the pleasure to be derived from mastering reading skills and at the same time, present a variety of career paths available to students who master the art of reading.
In order to maintain and strengthen their reading skills over the summer months, the students are invited to choose free books to establish home libraries. The program volunteers and local businesses donate monies to fund the free book distribution. The full impact of the program is dynamically illustrated when the children eagerly choose their free books and rush to share them with their “reading buddies.” The RSVP Reading Buddies Program is helping to encourage reading with the students in Monmouth County, New Jersey.