It takes a community

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Through MFL MarMac Elementary’s reading volunteer program, students get one-on-one reading time, for five minutes each week, with a community volunteer. Here, volunteer Erika Kielstrup, who's volunteered weekly since the start of the school year, listens as a student reads to her. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

Volunteer program helps elementary students with reading

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

There’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. At MFL MarMac Elementary School, community volunteers are taking that to heart by helping students with their reading skills.

It’s all part of the school’s reading volunteer program, organized this year by Heidi Meyer, who handles literacy intervention.

Through the program, each elementary student gets one-on-one reading time, for five minutes each week, with a community volunteer. Volunteers support kids on sounding out tough words and also talk about the book, Meyer said. 

The idea came about, she noted, because research shows kids need time to read, and benefit from one-on-one support from an adult. 

“Every chance is helpful for them,” she said. “This supports their growth as readers and it’s also a way for the community to show support.”

Meyer said the program has a wide range of volunteers—everyone from a high school student to an 85-year-old man, from parents to retired teachers. There are 35 in all, she said, with some reading with students weekly, while others come once or twice each month or as needed. 

Volunteers help out before school, as kids arrive, often reading to groups or helping out students as they read with one another. One-on-one time is from 8:15 to 9:45 a.m., at the beginning of each school day. Two to four volunteers help out each morning.

Meyer works the schedule out so that each classroom has time with a volunteer once each week. Volunteers have a list of classrooms to read with each day. The order in which they read with the kids depends on the teacher, Meyer explained.

“Some go down a list and others send out someone who needs more help,” she said. “It depends on the needs of the kids.”

Some students, particularly those in kindergarten, read a book they’ve been reading in class because they’re familiar with it, Meyer said. Others select a book that is of interest to them.

The response from kids has been positive.

“Talking to the teachers, they say the kids are asking if they can go out to read,” Meyer said.

Just having someone new to read with, especially a male volunteer for the boys, gets students excited, she added.

Volunteers, namely some of the older, regular volunteers, also enjoy their time spent with the kids.

“It gets them out in the community,” Meyer said. “They want to come back because it’s so fun and the kids are so honest and excited.”

“It’s great to be able to sit and read with them,” said Erika Kielstrup, who’s volunteered weekly since the start of the school year. “That one-on-one time is something they need. I love to see their improvement.”

With 100 to 200 hours of volunteer time offered so far, seeing such support for the young program has been encouraging, Meyer mentioned. It will continue throughout this school year, and more volunteers are always welcome, she said.

“I’m appreciative of all the time,” she said. “It’s good to see that people in the community care about reading and how the students are doing. It builds the relationship between the school and community.”

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