When Adele Sparks enters Ashley Baxter’s 2nd grade classroom at Fairview Elementary School, 8-year-old Carter Worley’s face lights up.
Every Tuesday, Sparks volunteers one-on-one with Carter to coach and mentor him on his reading skills.
“She is such a great person,” Baxter said of Sparks. “They read for about 20 or 30 minutes each week, and it’s just really helped (Carter’s) reading comprehension. He’s able to understand the story elements better because she’s been there to guide him and ask him questions. His fluency has increased, so he can pronounce the words better and at a faster pace.”
Sparks is one of 50 volunteer readers who took part in last year’s Live United Reader Roundup, the volunteer drive spear-headed by United Way of Blount County.
A collaboration of Blount County Head Start centers, Alcoa City Schools, Blount County Schools, Maryville City Schools and United Way, Reader Roundup places volunteer readers in the classroom in an effort to promote literacy in the schools.
“I had been looking for something meaningful to do, and this just kind of hit home,” Sparks said.
What started as a one-day special project has blossomed into a commitment. Sparks has been reading with students from Baxter’s class ever since last year’s Reader Roundup.
“I think reading to and with children at a very young age is one of the most important things we can do as a mentor, as a parent or grandparent,” Sparks said.
Baxter said the bond between Sparks and Worley is undeniable.
“Carter has such a good relationship with her,” Baxter said. “If she can’t make it, or we can’t make the meeting that week, he’s always so concerned, ‘Where’s Ms. Adele? When do I get to see her again?’”
Baxter added that Reader Roundup has helped her tremendously in the classroom.
“It’s just a wonderful program. It is really hard for a teacher to get one-on-one time with students,” Baxter said. “Overall, I see improved self-esteem, because they become better readers, so when we do whole group reading in class, they look forward to it.”
There are no downsides, Baxter said. “It’s a win-win situation. It makes a huge difference in the children’s lives. They get to see the community be involved with education - not just their parents or teachers.”
Sparks said she gets as much out of it as her student does.
“I really look forward from one Tuesday to the next,” Sparks said. “I just thoroughly enjoy what I do. I come away excited every day when this little fellow grasps the meaning of a new word or tells me what this story was about. I get caught up in it.”
Organizers of the 2011 Live United Reader Roundup are hopeful to have an even greater turnout of volunteers than last year for the weeklong volunteer drive. Dates are February 14 through 18. Volunteer readers are matched with a participating school, or they can call with information for volunteer opportunities at their own school. To take part in the 2nd Annual Live United Reader Roundup, volunteers should contact United Way of Blount County at 865-982-2251 or visit liveunitedblount.org/readerroundup for more information.
The volunteer time commitment for Reader Roundup can be as little as 30 minutes on one day, or volunteers may commit to reading throughout the whole week.
The event is organized through United Way’s Year of Caring committee. Kim Wallace, who serves on the Year of Caring committee, said that year-round participation would be great, but having volunteers who can only take part during the drive itself is beneficial, too.
“Even if you just take some time one day to go read for as little as 15 or 30 minutes, that’s great and helps the teachers out also,” Wallace said.
Wallace is not only a Reader Roundup organizer, but last year she was a volunteer participant as well.
“I really enjoyed (reading to a class),” Wallace said. “The kids had lots of questions. I read to kindergarteners, and let me tell you, they listen to every word you say. They learn a lot from reading and listening with you.”
Reader Roundup focuses on preschool and elementary school age children. However, individuals interested in reading with older children are encouraged to inquire with the school system of their choice.
Readers may bring their own age-appropriate and teacher-approved book, or a book can be selected for the volunteer, depending on the location the volunteer chooses.
United Way of Blount County supports programs that address health, education, and self-sufficiency. For more information or to give to United Way, please visit liveunitedblount.org or call 865-982-2251.