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Oct. 20, 2005 • Volume 14 Number 4

Read Aloud volunteer Carroll School of Management Administrative Staff Assistant Paige Eppenstein discusses a book with children at St. Columbkille's School. The program has expanded to the Brighton Catholic school this fall. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Program's Appeal Loud and Clear

Now in second decade, Read Aloud expands to a third Boston school

Boston College's Read Aloud Program, a popular staple in two Brighton elementary schools for the past decade, has expanded this year to include the neighborhood's St. Columbkille's School.

The program, which brings nearly 70 Boston College faculty and staff members into the local elementary schools for reading and discussion, will now include three grades at the Brighton Catholic school in addition to K-5 classes at the Garfield and Mary Lyon elementary schools where Read Aloud has flourished since it debuted at the Garfield school in 1994.

Read Aloud volunteers spend approximately an hour a week in classrooms, reading from specially chosen books that are appropriate for the age level, interest and curriculum of the young pupils. Readers also hold book discussions, question-and-answer sessions or general conversations with the students.

"We want to add something to the classroom experience," says Laura Bitran, who has overseen the program since she joined the Office of Governmental and Community Affairs staff in 1995. "What is beautiful about the program is that it engages children in issues and topics that affect everyone."

The Read Aloud readers serve as role models for the children, says Bitran, who adds that the diversity in age among the volunteers - ranging from 20s to 60s - can help to fill a void for a child.

"The whole experience really brightens their day, and it sends a message to the children that they are loved and that people care about their education," said Bitran.

Mary Lyon School Principal Deborah Rooney, who has experienced Read Aloud as a classroom teacher, literacy coach and principal, said, "We try to read to the children at lunchtime every day. But there's just a different quality on the days that the BC readers come in. We don't have a school library, so we are limited in being able to provide new and different books for the children. It's so exciting for the kids to see what the readers have chosen to bring in to share with them."

Rooney says Read Aloud offers an extra benefit for children who are learning English as a new language. "Research shows that the more children listen to stories, the more they are read to, really speeds up their ability to access English as a language and helps them make progress in their understanding of English."

Bitran said the program has always attracted many volunteers from the BC community, and this past year saw a larger-than-ever pool of applicants. Director of Governmental Relations Jeanne Levesque suggested expanding Read Aloud to St. Columbkille's, Bitran said, and school principal Mary Battles readily agreed with the idea. Readers will now visit two kindergarten classes and a 1st grade and 2nd grade class at the school.

All readers take part in a September training program that outlines the commitment of time required and provides tips on how to be a good children's reader. Bitran says teachers are asked as to whether they want the readings to explore a special theme. Many of the books used for the reading sessions come from the Educational Resource Center in the Lynch School of Education, Bitran said.

"Everybody really seems to get into the program," Bitram said. "The volunteers just fall in love with the children. Readers come from all levels of the Boston College community - we have vice presidents and deans, professors, 'big' people and 'small' people. What counts is the interest in taking part in the program."

Bookstore Manager Thomas McKenna, who has been a reader for five years, agrees. "I get a kick out of the children, I really do."

At his recent session with third-graders, McKenna read excerpts from The Curse of the Bambino, Boston Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessey's book about the long-suffering trials of the Boston Red Sox vs. the New York Yankees. When he got to the part about Bucky Dent's infamous (to Red Sox fans) home run that eliminated the Sox in 1978, McKenna says, the children broke into the oft-repeated anti-Yankee chant, prompting their teacher to return to the classroom.

"I quickly flipped the page to 1986 [a year when Boston made the World Series]," McKenna recalled with a laugh, "and told them the moral is 'You always have to believe.'"

Bitran says McKenna's experience is hardly unique: "Every year, we have readers tell us that they take more from the children than they give.

"We are excited about this program because it will help the children to become better readers and better learners. That is something that will last their entire life."

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