A BookMate since 2016, Leah Cleary experienced both in-person and remote reading with the young students from Zane North in Collingswood, NJ. Most of us can sense the difficulties in being a consistent reader during Covid, but Leah recognized the importance of being a steady influence and read through the whole challenging year. In that time of remote reading, Leah took on two kindergarten and two second grade students and spent two mornings each week on the computer with them.
Having personal experience years before by assisting in a variety of special needs programs in Haddonfield, Leah felt her skills set and experiences should be put to good use. Learning about BookMates from participating in a variety of events at the JCC, she realized the program would be perfect for her.
Wanting to help those youngsters who have some struggles in school, she soon concluded how rewarding the experience was for her. This year at Mark Newbie in Collingswood, as she read and talked with her two first grade students, Leah sensed their openness to having the special attention of a caring adult. The girls warmed up quickly and displayed their eagerness at each week’s session. The basics were tough for these girls and Leah helped them with letter writing, spelling, vocabulary, recall and comprehension.
Leah “set them up for success” and saw an increase in their confidence as the months passed. Always bringing several books for their selection, Leah chose books that would be fun, engaging and reflect their Interests. Those books kept them motivated and excited.
One joyful memory Leah recalled was with a first-grade girl who had two Spanish speaking grandmothers. Leah found coloring books and stories related to “Encanto” as well as books published in both English and Spanish. They shared the books, reading aloud together, the child in English and Leah recalling her Spanish from living in Arizona as a child.
Often, we measure the success of the BookMates’ program anecdotally, only occasionally by statistics provided by the school. Leah was told by the specialist teachers that they noticed” huge improvements” in her youngsters’ reading skills. This improvement comes from a BookMates’ time and attention and guidance; none of our volunteers are actually trained reading teachers.
For anyone considering joining the program and becoming a volunteer reader, Leah declared, “We all think participating as a BookMate is a great way to give back. It’s very rewarding to make a positive difference in a young person’s life.