When Joy Richmond-Smith looked at the data she collects on all her school’s students, she saw that some young children were struggling with reading.
“They weren’t making progress in meeting the benchmarks,” Richmond-Smith says. She is the City Connects Coordinator at the Saltonstall School in Salem, Mass. “We have some in-school supports, but we’re also always thinking about ways to increase the ways that kids practice reading and creating more chances for them to be read to.”
The younger children were already getting extra reading support from specialists, but Richmond-Smith saw a way to add another support. She turned to some local readers: older students in her K-8 school who know first-hand that schoolwork can be hard.
“We came up with the idea of matching younger children with older children and creating a before-school reading opportunity.”
Six older students and seven younger ones meet twice a week in the school library for 25 minutes before school starts and work on reading. Sometimes the younger child reads to the older child. Sometimes they switch roles. Either way, both children benefit. The younger children get more exposure to reading, help with sight words, and the chance to have a relationship with the older students. And the older students get to serve as mentors.
Mentoring programs like this one — and this one — exemplify a critical component of the City Connects practice: That relationships make a difference in the lives of the students we serve. Building relationships can be as simple as eating lunch with new students, meeting them as they come into school every morning, or, in this case, identifying older mentors who can help younger children become better readers and feel more connected.
The popularity of the reading program is growing. Older students who aren’t reading mentors are asking about signing up.
“The feedback that we’re getting from the reading specialists,” Richmond-Smith says, “is that all the kids are making progress.”