One hour, once a week: that is all it takes to make a huge difference in a kid’s life when it comes to their reading ability.
“I feel like the biggest change is that there is an adult that cares about them that comes to school just for them and spends an uninterrupted hour,” said Nicole Powell, the 2019 Tulsa Public Schools Teacher of the Year.
That’s why Nicole started Reading Buddies. The program is now in its the second year, and she now has thirty volunteers that come every week. It is something the students can count on and look forward to.
“They never miss on days that their reading buddy comes,” said Nicole.
Some of the volunteers have a connection to the school, including former teacher Kirk Farrell. When he accepted a different job, he made sure he would be free on Wednesdays so he could come back and read with kids for the entire day. Former school counselor Brenda Harlin retired in May, but she just couldn’t stay away.
“I have them in my heart, and I know the need to help so I wanted to still be a part,” she said. “I know how important it is for kids to be able to read to do well out there in the world. If I can help in that respect, I’m here. I want to.”
Former students also make up the volunteer roster. Those that go to TLA get out of class at 1 p.m., so they come to John Hope Franklin to put their flexible schedule to good use.
Nicole wrote easy-to-follow curriculum for the program that includes time for the students to read and be read to, as well as phonics games.
“You don’t have to be a teacher. All you have to do is have a desire to positively impact a student’s life,” said Nicole. “[The components] allow for a lot of time to get to know each other too. A lot of them will stay and eat lunch with them or come early to eat lunch with them. A lot of our reading buddies have shown up to their sporting events. One of them bought [a student] a fancy dress and took her to the nutcracker last year. It’s not just reading. It extends way past that. They are part of our family for sure.”
Nicole said anyone is welcome to volunteer – there’s just a background check they have to pass. There are fifteen kids in her class that don’t have a reading buddy yet, and all kids can benefit from the program.
“In an ideal world, every one of our 400 kids would have one. Whether you are the highest achiever or the lowest achiever, having a relationship with an adult is great for a kid,” she said.
It is great for the volunteers too.
“The smile on their face – I know they look forward to me coming, and I look forward to having them be part of life for me as well. It works for both of us,” said Brenda. “There are so many boys and girls out here that need you. If not for reading, then they just need someone that can show them they care, pay some attention.”
If you are interested in signing up to be a volunteer, contact Nicole Powell.