Based on an article in the Pirate’s Chest Newsletter for S.A.D. 4 published in 2008-09…
Third grader Bryce Gilbert says he likes the Valley Grange Bookworm Program “because I get to spend more time with new people, read new books, and learn new words.”
That’s great news to a lot of people, because studies consistently show a direct correlation between a young student’s reading experiences and his or her academic success. We know reading to children is important. The Bookworm Program demonstrates that letting the child read to an adult improves their skills and confidence and engages them in learning. Small wonder the teachers, the children, and all the Grange volunteers love it!
Caleb Rolfe, a second grader, is another big fan of the program. “We learn things from books, and we get to spend more time with people,” he said. “And if we spend time with some people, they can help us read.”
Bryce and Caleb are just two examples of Guilford Primary School students who have wormed their way into the hearts and minds of members of the Valley Grange and Grange members are in turn wiggling into the school to help students with their reading skills. At least twice each week, a different member of Valley Grange shows up at the school to help teachers and students by simply listening to and encouraging students to read to them.
“It’s just a natural next step for us as an organization,” said Walter Boomsma, Lecturer for Valley Grange. “In 2007 the third graders made a field trip to the Grange Hall in conjunction with the Dictionary Project we co-sponsor with South Sangerville. The kids got their dictionaries and we got ‘hooked’ on their enthusiasm for learning. I think we just decided we don’t want to wait a whole year to be involved with them again.”
The Grange has a long-standing tradition of community service and shortly after the trip Mary Annis, Community Service Chairperson, began working with Julie Orton, Guilford Primary School Principal, on several ideas for how Grange Members might further serve the school and students. Initially, the thought was that Grangers might read to the students, but after discussion with the teachers it was determined that letting the students show their skills by reading to adults might have an even greater impact. Mrs. Annis wasn’t surprised that she filled the first schedule with volunteers quickly. “It would be enough that it’s fun!” she said. “But we also truly appreciate the opportunity to be part of their education… not merely by helping with reading skills, but also by example teaching them community skills and making sure they know there are people who care.”
Grange members and reading volunteers also go “back to school” at least one a year during their monthly meetings. For example, Shelly Johnson Snow, Literacy Coach for the S.A.D. 4 Elementary Schools has presented a workshop on “Literacy Prompts” to help volunteers understand how children are taught to read. “Most of us Grangers are from the ‘See Spot Run’ era,” Boomsma noted, adding that he was amazed at the level today’s students are reading. “Working with the kids and school has certainly given me a deeper appreciation for the kids, their challenges, and their teachers.”
Although the Grange volunteers are mostly there to listen, sometimes there’s more interaction with some “partnering.” Mr. Boomsma – who loves to tell stories about his experiences — described one student who announced that she’d selected her book because she needed some help with it. “It was a book of poetry including one by Carl Sandburg. She read the poem to me and said, ‘I don’t get it.’ I had to admit that I didn’t either! But we agreed to work on it together and we figured it out. We had fun learning together!”
“I’m with Bryce,” Mr. Boomsma said. “I love this program because I get to spend more time with new people, read new books, and learn new things!”
Epilog: Grange Bookworms continue to visit the students who are now at Piscataquis Elementary School. In addition to Dictionary Day (third grade) and “bookworming” (second and third grades) Valley Grange sponsors an annual “Newspapers in Education” Project (third and fourth grades) and continues to promote agricultural literacy with special projects (kindergarten through grade three).