ROCKINGHAM — One by one, the first-graders slow-walked onto the gymnasium floor of L.J. Bell Lighthouse School, quietly carrying signs that said “thank you” in bright colors and fonts.
From the beginning to its end, the thank-you luncheon for the women and men who volunteer to help kindergartners to second-graders with their reading fluency offered one “awwww” moment after another.
“Many of our students are suffering from poverty but also from a lack of love,” Principal Yvonne Gilmer told those assembled Friday. And it was clear from the number of furtive grins and quick pats between adults and children which need the volunteers were there to fill — in addition to teaching sight words and sounding out.
The Growing Readers program began at L.J. Bell 16 years ago, when then-teacher — and now coordinator — Millie Wall attended a conference and discovered a reading-recovery program she thought the school should buy. When she returned, she breathlessly told principal Bobbie Sue Ormsby about it.
Ormsby, now a School Board member, said Wall persuaded her to buy one year of the pricey publishers’ program.
But after that year, the school fashioned its own curriculum, which — from its inception — has continued to raise children’s reading scores, fluency and confidence.
Three children read aloud at the luncheon Friday: Xavier Short, about a bear going fishing; Matthew Driggers, about “Meanies” who drink their own bathwater and eat used bubble gum; and Savannah Goans, about butterflies.
“She’s a nice volunteer,” Savannah said of her hour a week with a woman whose name she couldn’t recall. “She helps me read a lot, and she helps me with some words” in books about monsters to butterflies.
Each week, Ormsby said, the 50-plus children in the program take home two books — one they’ve read and one to work on.
Volunteers visit the school for an hour a week to provide coaching after being trained how to do so.
And teachers keep track of rising test scores.
The program has been recognized by Governor’s Awards three times.
But the most important thing about Growing Readers is that the volunteers don’t quit. Four introduced to the group Friday were 83, 83, 85 and 87 years old.
Gale Parks said she had been a volunteer for 15 years.
“The kids” are the reason she keeps going back year after year, she said. “It’s gotta be the kids.
“It’s so much fun.”
Second-grader Savannah Goans reads to an audience of volunteers Friday – so "you can learn about butterflies just like me" – as first-grade teacher Tammy Lambert stands by in case pages need turning.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or at [email protected]