The Gift of Literacy

When it comes to summer, reading may not be the first thing on a child’s mind, but it is an important activity for maintaining beginner reading skills. Research shows that low-income children often lose reading skills over the summer due to lack of access to reading materials, causing them to fall behind their more advantaged classmates.  To help level the playing field, Reading Buddies volunteers at Atlantic Highlands Elementary School are giving away free books to every child in their classrooms , regardless of income.

“For the past several years, we’ve been pooling our resources at the end of year to purchase a book for every child in Kindergarten and first grade,” explains Reading Buddies team leader Judy Braverman. “This year that ‘s 65 books for 65 students! The kids really appreciate it. They are so surprised when we tell them they can choose a book and take it home to keep!”

While the Reading Buddies volunteers split the cost of the books, Atlantic Highlands Elementary School teacher Susan Evans actually purchase the books through Scholastic to ensure a variety of age-appropriate material. Multiple copies of popular books like “The Real Story of the Three Pigs” and “The Judy Moody and Friends” series are made available, as well as books about animals, science and space exploration. The volunteers display the books in the school library for the children to select from on the final day of the program.

Reading Buddies is the only school-based program of its type in Monmouth County. Its goal is to improve childhood literacy, reading proficiency and cultivate an appreciation of literature among at-risk children in under-performing schools. The program engages 170 specially-trained senior volunteer readers who work with over 1,600 students in nearly 80 kindergarten and first grade classrooms. By the end of the last school year, volunteers provided over 4,600 hours of reading guidance to students.

Many Reading Buddies volunteers are retired and now find fulfillment by utilizing the skills and experiences they have acquired to inspire their students to learn and engage them in a continuing quest for knowledge.  But the program’s unique intergenerational approach goes beyond fostering literacy skills.  It provides appropriate role-modeling, builds confidence and mutual respect, and broadens each student’s understanding of the world around them.  In the end, Reading Buddies volunteers serve as mentors, helping develop reading proficiency and instilling a lifelong love of reading in the children who need it most.

“I wasn’t a teacher before I retired, but I love volunteering with this program,” Judy gushes. “To see the changes in the children in just one year, how they go from quietly listening to bringing me books that they love to read, it’s just wonderful!”

Following the free book give away, the Reading Buddies volunteers returned to the classrooms to read a few lines from each child’s chosen book and sign their name to a special nameplate inside. While the Reading Buddies program has concluded for this year, we are accepting applications for the 2018-19 school year. If you are interested in becoming a Reading Buddy, contact Marlena Scarola at or call 732-222-9111 extension 151.



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