Positive response to senior reading program

In addition to reading
to students, RSVP
provides free booksCorrespondent


In addition to reading
to students, RSVP
provides free books

Red Bank — The Retired Senior Volunteer Program kicked off another year of its reading program by giving free books to 300 students at Red Bank Primary School on Tuesday.

The program is designed to help improve listening and vocabulary skills. Each volunteer, or buddy, reads to three to five students every Friday at the end of the school day from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Red Bank.

The program started in 1998 and Highlands Elementary School, Highlands, was the first school involved. It was developed by the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program as part of Family & Children’s Service, Oakhurst. They began by looking at schools with lower literacy rates to work with.

When Mary Thornton, education coordinator for RSVP, took over in June 2000, there were eight schools and 50 volunteers. Currently, there are 15 participating schools with 1,400 students, 76 teachers, and 230 volunteer readers signed up for the 2003-04 school year.

Red Bank was one of the first schools to become part of this program about five years ago. The district is able to give its students free books because it receives not only federal funding, but also private donations, notably from the Zobel Foundation.

"A generous grant by the Zobel Foundation was given specifically for Red Bank use," said Thorton.

Lawrence Fuchs, a Red Bank native and a lawyer with the foundation, gave a presentation at a Red Bank Rotary Club meeting in the hope of providing Red Bank children with books to start their own home libraries.

Last year, around 6,000 books were given out to all the 15 schools in the program. At Red Bank, the books are not limited to children in the program but are given out to all Red Bank Primary students. According to Thornton, this year they are going to give out at least six books to every child at Red Bank during the course of the year, and the children get to choose the books they want.

The program seems to be working well. According to Joan McLaughlin, a third-grade teacher at Red Bank, "the children have been more motivated to read." McLaughlin was teaching first grade when the program began at Red Bank.

The seniors and the children also are enjoying each other’s company.

"The readers really fostered an enjoyment of reading and created a bond with the children. The children looked forward to meeting with their buddies." Thornton said. "There is an intergenerational bond between the retired people who might not have their grandkids living nearby, while the flip side is true also. There are kids who may not have their grandparents around."

The volunteers and students fill that void for each other.

McLaughlin also expressed another benefit that went beyond reading skills. "The program was enriching not only because it exposed the children to literature but because it created a great connection with the community." McLaughlin said that they were fortunate to have Jeff Clapp, a local artist who illustrates children’s books, come in and do a mural at the school.

Thorton said, "The volunteers take time to talk to the kids about themselves and to let them know that if they work hard, then there will be more opportunities for them."

To volunteer, or for more information about the program, call Mary of Family & Children’s Service, (732) 531-5511.