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‘Read Aloud’ volunteers prepare to encourage literacy in local kids

By Staff | Mar 16, 2018

Toni Milbourne/Chronicle Bob Fleenor, Read Aloud West Virginia’s volunteer president, speaks at the training session.

People with a passion for reading to children gathered last Saturday at the Tate House in Charles Town to receive instruction from members of the Read Aloud West Virginia organization.

The reader orientation is a training session designed to provide volunteer readers with an overview of the Read Aloud organization’s programs and provide an understanding of the mission and goals of Read Aloud West Virginia.

Nine schools in Jefferson County are participating in Read Aloud this school year: Harpers Ferry Middle, Wildwood Middle, Page-Jackson Elementary, T. A. Lowery Elementary, Blue Ridge Elementary, Blue Ridge Primary, North Jefferson Elementary, Ranson Elementary and South Jefferson Elementary. These enrolled schools invite trained volunteer readers into their classrooms to provide students with a regular “commercial” for reading.

During Saturday’s volunteer training, Bob Fleenor, volunteer president of Read Aloud, and volunteer reader Casey Williams shared strategies on how to select books, how to maintain classroom order and how to communicate with the partner teachers.

“We are the commercial for reading,” Williams said. “We are the motivators for reading.”

Toni Milbourne/Chronicle Casey Williams, a volunteer with Read Aloud West Virginia, speaks during the training session.

Read Aloud was established by a group of parents in 1986 in Kanawha County. Its goal was and continues to be changing the literacy climes of West Virginia by keeping reading material in the hands and on the minds of the state’s children.

After seeing the program’s success, the West Virginia Education Fund offered to assume responsibility for administering the program and expanding it statewide. It was officially adopted by the WVEF in 1993, and by 2000, Read Aloud had a presence in 53 of the state’s 55 counties.

As part of Read Aloud’s most popular program, volunteer readers visit classrooms and other community locations to read to local children. When schools enroll in Read Aloud, they participate in the volunteer reader program and have access to Read Aloud’s other programs and resources.

According to a press release from Read Aloud Executive Director Mary Kay Bond, there’s more to being a volunteer than just reading a book.

“When volunteers go into the schools, they become role models for reading, build listening skills and whet an appetite for a love of reading,” Bond wrote.

Fleenor and Williams also stressed the need to show up on time for the scheduled reading session, because maintaining routine in the teacher’s schedule is key. In addition to being on time, Williams said, the volunteer readers should leave when their time is complete.

“Communication with the teacher is the key component,” Williams said.

When selecting books to read to children, the training material recommended knowing the age of the children, finding out whether the class has had readers before and keeping in mind what the group’s attention span might be. Lots of action and dialogue in books helps keep children focused, and a mix of picture books and poetry or chapter books can keep things interesting.

“Leave them with a cliffhanger,” Fleenor suggested. “This leaves them wanting more.”

Currently, over 1,000 Read Aloud volunteers are reading in more than 1,600 classrooms around the state. To become a certified Read Aloud reader, volunteers attend a one-time orientation session like the one held in Jefferson County this week.

According to Fleenor, being a volunteer means encouraging kids to do more than just listen.

“The goal is to get them to want to pick up a book,” Fleenor said.