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Through Willmar library partnership, Girl Scouts play tutors, pals to young students

Emily Malmgren, from left, Addison Fladeboe and Tasha Klatt share a book. Girl Scouts are on hand two hours a week for the Study Buddies program, during which they tutor younger students and share in playtime activities. A popular area is the puppet booth. (PHOTOS BY DAN BURDETT | TRIBUNE)

Each Thursday, Tasha Klatt spends two hours at the Willmar Public Library tutoring young students. They are some of the most rewarding hours of her week.

“I just love these kids and helping them learn,” said Klatt, who at 14 is already focused on one day working in education. “I’d like to be a teacher, so being able to spend time with the kids in this environment is definitely worthwhile for me.”

Klatt is among a half dozen teens with Girl Scout Troop 3513 in Willmar who are involved in the tutoring program.

Mason Kok, left, is all smiles March 31 as he reads a book with Abigail Mathiasen, center, and Emily Malmgren.Dubbed Study Buddies, the free program began in January as a means for the girls to attain their Silver Award, the Scouts’ second-highest achievement and the highest award a Girl Scout cadette (those in grades 6-8) can earn.

A prerequisite for achieving the award is to complete 50 hours of volunteer service or civic engagement in partnership with a community liaison or organization, according to Linda Mathiasen, a troop leader.

So each Thursday, from 5-7 p.m., the library provides the resources and space for the Girl Scouts to meet with preschoolers and students through fifth grade, and assist them with reading, spelling and homework. The sessions are also interspersed with playtime activities that offer one-on-one bonding time with the children.

“Study Buddies is a great connection to pair teen volunteers with younger children,” said Kathy Torkleson, the children’s librarian. “This is the first time in the children’s department that a program like Study Buddies has been specifically geared to children in preschool through fifth grade. It is a serious commitment to the community and to the children. The parents and children greatly appreciate the help they receive.”

The most-recent session March 31 drew a large crowd.

Among them were 4-year-old Laura Rios and her 10-year-old brother, Angel.

Alexa Christoffer takes to the puppet booth for a little improv.

Laura called the study group “exciting,” while flipping through the pages of a touch-and-feel book with Alexa Christoffer, 13.

“I’ve enjoyed seeing the kids get more comfortable with me over time,” Christoffer said.

Nine-year-old Addison Fladeboe read with Klatt for a time before joining Christoffer for an improvised puppet show that drew laughs. It was Fladeboe’s first time at the study group.

“We’ll definitely be back,” her mom, Megan, said.

“It’s so much fun to see the children improve in their learning,” said Emily Malmgren, 14, while she and Abigail Mathiasen, 13, read a book on trucks to Mason Kok, 5, a curious sort with a penchant for “Minions” and Matchbox cars.

“It’s fun just to read to them and give them the opportunity to talk to us and be themselves,” Mathiasen added.

Linda Mathiasen said the girls are planning further activities to support Study Buddies.

From 10 to 11 a.m. April 16, the girls will host a spring-themed reading and crafts program at the library. They are also developing sports and playtime diversions in line with the library’s summer reading theme: “Get in the Game.”

The girls are “creating a great connection” with the children, Torkleson said.

For more information on Study Buddies, call the Willmar Public Library at 320-235-3162. The library is located at 410 Fifth St. S.W. in downtown Willmar.

Parents who bring their children to Study Buddies must remain on-site for the duration of the program.

Dan Burdett

Dan Burdett is the community content coordinator at the West Central Tribune. He has 13 years experience in print media, to include four years enlisted service in the United States Air Force. He has been an employee of Forum Communications since 2005, joining the company after spending two years as the managing editor of the Redwood Gazette and Livewire in Redwood Falls. Prior to his current position, Dan was the presentation editor at the Tribune.

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