LIVINGSTON, NJ – On Tuesdays and Thursdays in July, the Livingston Public Library invited emerging independent readers entering grades K-2 to pair up with teen mentors who were trained in guiding young children in reading. The summer of 2013 marked the ninth year that the “Book Buddies” program has been opened for all children of Livingston looking to improve their reading and comprehension skills, vocabulary and individual confidence.
Youth Services Librarian, Gina Vaccaro and Teen Librarian, Karen DeWilde designed the program as a community service opportunity for teens and to provide a chance for the community’s children to develop pre-reading skills, such as, associating sounds with words. In 2013, the librarians reported that there were nearly 70 children in Livingston who were interested in the four-week program.
“To these kids, reading is still exciting and fun,” Vaccaro said. “This program has done wonders for kids who might be struggling but everybody needs reinforcement.”
Each week, teen volunteers were paired with a reading buddy. Together they selected and ready books and did various other artistic activities. Many children, like seven-year-old Jordy Lowy, said they would repeat the program next year because of the relationship they created with their teen buddy. Lowy said she liked being able to read out loud to her buddy because it made her a better reader.
According to Vaccaro, one of the main purposes of the annual program is to identify emerging readers who already have basic reading skills but are looking to increase their vocabulary, comprehension and confidence. DeWilde trains the mentors early in the summer in order for the children to experience the greatest outcome.
“When I didn’t know some words my buddy helped me learn them,” said six-year-old Cat Powers after sharing some of her favorite summer reads. “My favorite book so far was Dolphin Tale because it was a true story about friendship.”
Powers also said she intends on returning next summer because reading helps her to learn new things. Her mother, Jen Powers, shared that her daughter has been a part of the summer reading program since she was two years old and was impressed by her escalated interest in learning.
“My hope is that the program improves her communication skills as well as reading skills,” Jen Powers said. “Having the help from teens in their own community gives them confidence in themselves and makes them feel more involved with the community.”
According to DeWilde, the trained mentors tend to get as much out of the experience as the kids. Several of the mentors were on the other end of the reading buddy relationship as a child, so for many it was more than a superior community service opportunity.
“There aren’t a lot of community service opportunities. I think it builds awareness about the reading process that they wouldn’t have normally thought about,” DeWilde said. “They are building work skills and a lot of them end up having a positive experience building relationships with their buddy and getting to re-visit books they liked when they were younger.”
Thirteen-year-old Book Buddy Justina Lowy said even though she was there to volunteer during her summer hours, she enjoyed reading to her kindergarten buddy and watching her absorb the content. She also said she has noticed improvement in her buddy’s listening skills and hoped she would continue to enjoy reading.
Other volunteers, like Abbie Bekov were recruited by the librarians because of their love for reading and ability to work with kids. After sharing that some of her family members recently gave birth, Bekov said she was glad she joined because she was able to gain patience from the experience.
“My buddy is more confident now and is more honest with me about the books I pick,” Bekov said. “I hope she’ll read more and continue to enjoy reading so she will come back next year and be my buddy again.”
Tuesday, July 30, was the final Book Buddies event for the summer, but the “Be a Time Traveler” summer reading program will continue until Aug. 9. On Wednesday, July 31, the Livingston Public Library will be holding a ‘Dr. Who’ event from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
DeWilde said all local “Whovians” are encouraged to come in costume. Anyone interested in enjoying a night of episodes, games and prizes can visit the Livingston Library website.