Read Me A Story

BC employee volunteers read aloud to students at a Brighton elementary school

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Readers are the leaders, the popular saying goes, and Boston College is taking that message to the local community.

Once a week, a group of BC administrators, faculty and staff members spend their lunch hours reading to children at the Garfield Elementary School in Brighton under the Read Aloud Program, sponsored by the Office of Community Affairs and Human Resources' Employee Development Program.

Read Aloud volunteer Catherine McLaughlin, an Irish Studies Program assistant, reads to Garfield School kindergartners on Tuesday. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
The program is one of several in which volunteers from Boston College read to local students; some 30 undergraduates volunteer at the Hamilton Elementary School and the Edison Middle School in Brighton. The Garfield Read Aloud Program - now in its second year - is distinctive because it also involves BC employees, said Community Affairs Director Jean McKeigue, but all the programs offer enormous benefits.

"It's very important for children to be read to," McKeigue said. "The more children view reading as enjoyable, the better the chance they will pick up books and read themselves.

"It's a win for the Garfield School, because teachers and students just love the BC readers, and the BC readers are really enthusiastic to have this opportunity."

Garfield School Principal Victoria Megias-Batista said the Read Aloud Program has been a great hit with her pupils. "It means a lot of happiness for the kids," she said. "They're very disappointed if for some reason they have to miss out on a session."

The more than 50 Read Aloud volunteers draw one reading shift per month, and are dispatched every Tuesday to each of the school's K-5 classes. Sometimes the readers work with teachers to present books that revolve around curriculum themes, said McKeigue, but most of the time, the volunteers read books chosen "for pure enjoyment."

The experience is certainly rewarding for Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael Smyer, who has been reading A Bridge to Tarabethia - Katherine Paterson's story of a 10-year-old boy in rural Virginia - to fifth-graders.

"I think the program is a great chance to model interest in reading and engage them in discussions about vocabulary," said Smyer. "We talked about what 'grit' means and that led to a discussion of grits and my hometown of New Orleans. It's also a chance to connect with a group of interesting kids. I got handmade Christmas cards from the class members, thanking me for reading. I hope that I'm helping give BC a familiar face for these neighbors."

Educational Resource Center Head Librarian Monique Lowd maintains a list of books for readers to use. Lowd said books popular among younger children include Lily's Purple Plastic Purse , by Kevin Henkes, the story of a mouse who brings her musical purse to school for show-and-tell, and Janet Morgan Stoeki's Minerva Louise at School , about a chicken who wanders into a schoolhouse she mistakes for a fancy barn. Older children like the Amber Brown series by Paula Danziger, about the trials and tribulations of a third-grade girl, and Peace Tales: World Folk Tales to Talk About , by Margaret Read MacDonald.

Tall tales also are perennial favorites, said Lowd, such as Anne Issacs' Swamp Angel , the story of a giant girl who wrestles a huge bear.

When Lowd read to pupils at the Garfield School last year, she found that "a half-hour wasn't long enough. The kids really got into it. Literacy is the cornerstone of all learning and anything we can do to encourage children to love reading is one of the best things we can do."

The program has proven a learning experience for BC volunteers as well, Megias-Batista said, as one reader discovered last year after asking a second-grade class whether they had enjoyed their time together. "Kids are very honest," she recalled, with a laugh. "One of the kids stood up and said, 'At the beginning you stank, but now you're really awesome.'"

The next sign-up and training session for the Read Aloud Program is scheduled in September. For more information, contact McKeigue at x2-4787, or Employee Development Program Administrator Carole DiFabio at x2-8532.

Return to April 10 menu

Return to Chronicle home page