Kindergarteners, volunteers bond over books
WILLMAR - It was Wednesday morning, and the students in Kris Egge's kindergarten class finished their breakfast and waited patiently. Shortly before 8:30 a.m., their Book Buddies started to arrive. Brittney Degner was one of the first. She's one ...
WILLMAR - It was Wednesday morning, and the students in Kris Egge's kindergarten class finished their breakfast and waited patiently.
Shortly before 8:30 a.m., their Book Buddies started to arrive.
Brittney Degner was one of the first. She's one of two Wells Fargo employees who volunteer to read with students in Egge's class at Lincoln Elementary School.
Degner and her buddy, Adam DeJong, 6, looked over a table spread with library books, picked up several and sat down on the floor in a corner Adam had picked out.
Egge looked down the hall and turned to a boy waiting at one of the tables. "Why don't you pick out two books; your buddy is coming down the hall," she said.
They kept coming -- college students, retirees, people from other Willmar businesses and a few school employees -- until every child in the classroom was huddled with an adult and a small stack of books.
Egge started her Wednesday Book Buddy program this fall. It's something she's wanted to do for a few years, she said, ever since she was in college in St. Cloud and heard about an elementary school that had a buddy for each child in the school.
"A whole school is hard to organize," so she decided to start out with just her class.
It took a little while to find enough volunteers for her 18 students, she said, but she ended up with a loyal core group. She has substitutes she can call if one of the regulars can't make it.
Many of the buddies will "adopt" a second child for a week, too, if it's needed, she said, and the children are good at sharing their buddies.
"It's fun because they all just get so excited when you come," Degner said. "I think this is good for kids, too."
Jeanne Koosman of Willmar heard about the program through a friend. She had been thinking about finding a new place to volunteer when she heard about it.
Egge's letter to the volunteers hooked her, too. It explained how the buddies would be helping all the students, especially those who needed to improve their reading skills.
Sitting next to her buddy, Thalia Aguilar, 6, Koosman said she is impressed that so many people of all ages came to read with the children. "Reading is so vital for the rest of your life," she said.
Wednesday mornings are important to her students, and she's seen a number of side benefits from the children's relationships with the adults, Egge said.
"It's the only time that all of them are engaged in something for a whole half hour," she said. "Even the kids with behavioral problems don't have them during this time."
As a result of "a book and some attention," the children have gotten better at sitting quietly when she needs them to, and their attention spans seem to be increasing.
"I'm excited about how well it's worked," she said.
By the end of the year, Egge said, she expects that the students will have a collection of books that they will be able to read to their buddies.
Research shows that children who are read to have a broader vocabulary, and they benefit from building a relationship with another adult, too, she said.
Egge's advice to parents with young children: "Reinforce reading to kids every night, even if it's a five-minute book."
The class goes to the school library every Tuesday to choose books. It's a different theme each week, related to what they are studying. Themes so far have included numbers, ABCs, pictures and rhyming. This week, the theme was families. Next week, it will most likely be related to Thanksgiving, Egge said.
The family-themed books offered a wide variety of subjects. Some were about grandparents or about sisters and brothers. Some were about animal families.
Many of the buddy pairs visited the table several times. Some said they read as many as six books during their half hour.
The children are learning more about words and reading all the time. Some of the buddies said they have seen a change in just the past month.
"I noticed my book buddy tracing out letters," said Katie Simenson, a Ridgewater College student.
Jessica Wiehr, another Ridgewater student, said her buddy was starting to point out short words to her.
"I love it," Wiehr said of the program. "It's not all about reading; it's also about communicating with them."
Simenson said she has enjoyed her relationship with her buddy. "They always have a new story," she said. "I just really get a lot out of seeing the kids starting to read."
Egge said she had hoped to get some police officers and firefighters in uniform as buddies, to help the children develop a positive image of people in uniform. That didn't work out, but several officers have promised to come in during the school year to read to the class.