The Reading Buddies program is only one year old, but it is already gathering momentum. Jennifer Bredemeier, a Knox alum with a degree in Education, came up with the idea for the program.
Bredemeier, who currently teaches at the Nielson Elementary School in Galesburg, was concerned by the fact that many students attending Nielson were not reading as much as they should be. Nielson Elementary has an Accelerated Reading Program, which keeps a record of what students read. The record showed that a lot of second and third graders, despite being bright, were apathetic towards reading.
Bredemeier began thinking of ways to spark up the kids’ in reading, and the Reading Buddies program was born.
The program officially began in the Fall of 2007. In a nutshell, the program involves Knox students volunteering to read to second and third graders for half an hour each week. They can choose one time slot Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, 9:00 to 9:30 a.m. or 12:30 to 1:00 p.m. A bus picks up the Knox students at the Center for Community Service, takes them to Nielson Elementary, and brings them back after the reading session is done. Volunteers spend seven weeks per term with the program, although it is preferable if they continue throughout the year.
The experience has proven to be positive for the Knox students as well.
“The kids are so excited and enthusiastic when the Knox volunteers come,” said sophomore Kelsey Ingle. “I love working with kids. They have such a different way of looking at the world.”
Last year, Ingle formed a strong bond with her Buddy, a third grade girl. Being a volunteer proved challenging as well.
“Sometimes [she] did not want to read, so we would just talk together. It is good if the children have someone to listen to them,” said Ingle.
Any Knox student can volunteer for the program and whoever does volunteer is required to attend a mandatory orientation meeting. The orientation seeks to make sure the Knox volunteers become thoroughly familiar with the District 205 (the Galesburg school district) legal guidelines, as well as follow certain rules to make sure they do not set a wrong influence on the impressionable kids. In Fall Term 2007 there were 29 student volunteers. By the end of the 2007-2008 academic year, the number grew to 65.
Bredemeier is also in charge of pairing up the Knox students with the child they would be spending time with. As a result, a one-on-one partnership and friendship builds up between the Nielson student and his or her Knox Buddy. This is beneficial to Nielson students because in a classroom setting of 25 to 30 students, some kids, especially the introverted ones, can feel left out and lonely. With a Knox Buddy, they get the individual attention they need.
The Knox volunteers carry a strong influence with the Nielson Elementary students.
“To the Nielson kids, Knox College students are like rock stars,” said coordinator of the Center for Community Service Kathleen Ridlon. “With the help of the Knox students, reading stops being humdrum and boring. And eventually, kids grow to love to read”. One of the reasons it is better to make a year-long commitment, according to Ridlon, is that the first seven weeks are necessary for the Buddies to “get to know each other and establish trust.”
The program is already a success, but there is always room to grow.
“If the program could grow bigger, it would be wonderful,” said sophomore Jenni Nefzger, who helps out with the administrative duties of the program.
“It would be great to spread the program to other schools,” said Ridlon.
At the end of last year, a celebration was held on Knox Campus to which close to 70 students from Nielson Elementary attended. The kids toured and enjoyed a lunch on Campus. Each of them also received a Knox T-shirt courtesy of Dean Xavier Romano.