Book Buddies provides individualized tutoring support for second and third grade students who are reading below grade level. Columbus East senior Ben Mackall was one of the children in the program years ago.

“When I was a child I had trouble reading because I couldn’t focus on the words long enough to read coherent sentences,” Mackall said.

He was placed in Book Buddies in the second quarter of second grade, which sparked a self-proclaimed fascination for reading. By the end of the year, Mackall said he was able to read at a higher level than the majority of his peers. But, for him, the program had a lasting impact.

“Book Buddies taught me to love reading. Reading, to me, is the best way to learn new information and, since being in the program, I have excelled as a student and grown exponentially as a person,” Mackall said.

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Mackall decided to give back to the program and is a volunteer at Parkside Elementary. He is currently one of four seniors who are spending time as Book Buddies volunteers each week for their senior projects. The others, also East students, are: Nicole Knechtel, volunteering at Clifty Creek; Morgan Roney, CSA-Fodrea; and Eric McMullen, Richards.

As volunteers, Mackall and the other students provide 30 minutes of one-on-one tutoring with two students each week, Book Buddies Director Debbie Lindauer said. Seniors often volunteer for the program for senior projects, she added.

Students enrolled in the program have improved an average of 7.5 book levels, and 94 percent of students were reading at grade level by the end of the program, according to the Book Buddies Volunteer Handbook.

Even though the program currently has 297 volunteers, 100 more are still needed to meet the demand of children in need of reading assistance, Lindauer said.

Volunteers, who are with children weekly, see improvements in reading over time on a closer scale, Lindauer said. They are placed with the same students, allowing those students to bond with their Book Buddies.

“They (the students) get connected to you and get confident. They read better out loud because they realize that you are not there to judge their reading,” program assistant Donna Fehribach said.

The training to volunteer is easy, Fehribach said. After a 45-minute to an hour training session, volunteers are ready to start. Volunteers even have the chance to choose which school they would like to help at and the time that is most convenient for them, although most times are set around the lunch hour to prevent volunteers from missing work.

The volunteer’s job? To listen to two children read for half-an-hour each and listen for any problems, such as monotonous reading or trouble with certain words.

“You listen to them read, you play a little game with them — a very short game for about 5 minutes — and anyone can do it really,” Fehribach said.

How to help

Here’s how to support the Book Buddies Program in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Volunteer

Visit barthcobookbuddies.weebly.com and complete the enrollment form. Forms can be emailed to bookbuddies@bcsc.k12.in.us. A one-hour training session and free background check are provided.

Donate

Book Buddies is a donation-based program. You can mail tax-deductible donations, to help pay for books and other classroom supplies, to: BCSC Administration Building, ATTN. Book Buddies, 1200 Central Ave., Columbus, Indiana 47201.

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Kaitlyn Evener is an editorial assistant for The Republic. She can be reached at kevener@therepublic.com or 812-379-5633.