Reading takes you on a journey full of new words. "It's not something that has to be about a certain subject that somebody tells you, this is what reading looks like," said Reading Seed program Director Lisa O’Meara.
The program through Literacy Connects wants to open up a new world for young readers."We’re really focused on helping kids develop identities as readers and developing the confidence they need to have that good relationship with reading," O'Meara said.
O'Meara goes on to say it's important to show students literacy comes in many forms. Whether it's a traditional book or a graphic novel. “It's really about taking their interests and their passion and revealing to them there’s a whole world available to them if we follow that through books," said O'Meara.
Hundreds of volunteers coach kids inside schools throughout Tucson."The teachers at our partner schools actually refer kids who they feel like would benefit most from participating in the program," O"Meara said. Then students from kindergarten to second grade are paired up with a Reading Seed volunteer and get to take books home.
"We provide a selection based their interests, but they get to decide which book they take home. And a lot of times they’ll say, oh my little brother loves Batman. I'm going to take that book home so I can read it to them," said O"Meara. Making reading a family affair is key. "What are volunteers get to do is really focus on each child’s individual strengths and their interests and we use that as a guide as to how to run our sessions with each child," said O'Meara.
These sessions became a challenge during the pandemic.“I'd say the biggest challenge is all of the schools that we work with are title one. So, they have a large percentage of free and reduced lunch rates. A lot of those families didn’t have access to the technology that they needed to participate," said O'Meara.
Now, the program is in rebuilding mode."We’re looking to get back into the schools in the fall," O'Meara said. Volunteers like Eric Van Meter will be back inside classrooms come August. He said they're looking forward to sitting down with kids and offering encouragement.
"Some of them may already love books and they may be able to read. Others may of, you know, barely cracked open a book in their life. It's all over the map," said Van Meter.
The mission of volunteers is to focus on the strengths of each student and build on that.
"That’s not how most of us go through the world. Like we don’t go through the world looking for what’s already good and right. So, it kind of became a weekly detox to just shift my perspective and not worry about problems," said Van Meter.
Keeping the worries away and finding a way. "There’s always a way in with a kid. There’s always a way to get them more comfortable and more confident," said Van Meter. Watching the progress of each student unfold is the best part. "It's amazing to watch how some of these kids change even in just a few weeks," said Van Meter.
Literacy Connects is looking for more volunteers for their Reading Seed program. Click here for more information.