JFHC volunteers read and donate a book to kids in a Title I school.
(Photos: E. McCormick)


Federation Volunteers Get Kids Excited About Books

By Hanni Werner


“What is he doing there?” asks first grader Anthony, peering closely at Amy Goodman’s book, Pablo & His Chair, and pointing at the protagonist’s picture.  Anthony isn’t usually that engaged in class, but story time with Jewish Federation of Howard County volunteers is special.  Once a month, through a program called Bookworms, these volunteers sit with the children in Ms. Yvette Custis’s class at Stevens Forest Elementary School, savoring each page as they read aloud and engage the children with questions and activities.

“Do you know what an embrace is?” volunteer Pauline Balak, a former kindergarten teacher, pauses the story to explain. “A hug. Give yourself a hug.”

For the young learners at this Title I school, story time is an opportunity to develop vocabulary skills, improve reading comprehension, and experience hands-on learning with a new friend. The students have time to delve deeper into a story, and for many ELL (English Language Learners) students, it’s a chance to be more immersed in the language.

But the volunteers confide that they get as much out of it as the children.  For them, it is a fun way to give back, sharing a love of reading with young minds and donating the book to the class library so that students can revisit the story later. The volunteers also incorporate their own interests in their selections. Many of the books Goodman reads are about artists while Balak’s books are often related to geology.

For children developing literacy skills, a new face and a new story can foster the excitement necessary to spark real learning. Kids like Anthony are consistently enthused by the reading program because it involves "somebody different with a different approach," says Ms. Custis. "It makes life interesting.”