Be a buddy

Best Buddies participants Carson Gallion, Mike Kell, Jackson Rogers and Margaret Pflueger work on reading activities at Parkside Elementary School, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. Paige Grider for The Republic Paige Grider / For The Republic

Anybody can be somebody’s book buddy.

Growing up, Mike Kell recalls being a struggling reader. After moving to a different school system in another state at a young age, he remembers feeling like he was never on the same level as his other classmates when it came to reading.

“I ended up way behind the other students and took remedial reading in summer school,” Kell said. “Because I couldn’t read as well as the other students, I was also behind them in all the other parts of learning. I just really could see how much reading could help me.”

After joining the local Kiwanis chapter and searching for youth service opportunities, Kell learned about a local tutoring program taking place in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. where volunteers could read with a child one-on-one for an hour a week.

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It’s called Book Buddies, and he learned soon after joining that anyone can be somebody’s book buddy.

Each week, more than 300 volunteers from Bartholomew County travel to one of BCSC’s 11 elementary schools to read with their buddy for one hour a day. During the hour, the volunteers share their own love for reading with children who have been identified as reading below grade level.

“Many children are coming to school unprepared to start reading,” said Debbie Lindauer, director of Book Buddies. “Having solid reading skills in place by the end of second grade is critical to future reading and school success.”

The Book Buddies program was created to provide individualized reading support for second and third graders across Bartholomew County. Volunteers meet with two students for 30 minutes each during their one hour of service each week. They spend about 20 minutes reading together, then play an educational game.

The books they read are selected by the students’ teachers based on their reading level and interests.

Kell said he joined the program as a volunteer because his own experience made him realize the importance of reading.

“I’ve always felt that reading was really important since the fifth grade,” Kell said. “This program gives students a chance to work with people who aren’t their parents but work closely with them regularly and begin to understand that most of the people in this world really want to help people along.”

Margaret Pflueger said she read every book she could get her hands on when she was growing up. The 25-year-old Columbus North High School alumna said she was always reading, and still does, but her brother struggled with reading.

Pflueger’s brother had a book buddy in elementary school, and Pflueger found a note from the buddy saying, “You’re the best, Book Buddy!”

“Book Buddies really seemed to help (my brother),” Pflueger said. “It’s a non-judgmental space where you can sound words out and walk through a book at the student’s pace. It’s so nice to say, ‘Hey, I get it. I know you’re struggling. I can work with you, and it doesn’t matter how many times we have to go over it; we’ll work through it.’”

Pflueger said it’s rewarding to see her buddies make progress throughout their time together.

Jackson Rogers, a fourth grade student at Parkside Elementary School, recently graduated from Book Buddies after two years in the program. He said he was recommended to the program because he struggled with reading and his buddy helped him.

By the end of third grade, Rogers had reached grade-level reading standards.

“My goal is always to reach 17 and last year I met it,” Rogers said. A level 17 means at-grade level. “Once a week, I would show my parents how high I’d reach, like ‘Hey Mom, I got a 17!”

Parkside fourth grader Carson Gallion also finished his tenure in the program in the spring. He said he can notice a difference in his reading.

“It was fun. We read 20 minutes, then we played a game at the end,” Gallion said. “In third grade, I started reading these big books and I kept progressing. Now I’m on the seventh series of books.”

Gallion said his favorite book series is Geronimo Stilton, a children’s book series about an anthropomorphic mouse who is a best-selling author and journalist and lives in New Mouse City on Mouse Island.

Gallion said he continues to read at least 30 minutes a day, even though his mom, who Gallion said is a teacher, would like him to read one hour a day.

Lindauer said many of the Book Buddies participants go on success in high school and graduation. During the 2016-17 school year, Lindauer said 97 percent of students read on grade level by the end of the program.

Kelly Weed, volunteer coordinator for Book Buddies, said she is always searching for new volunteers to join the more than 300 people who visit the schools once a week.

“We love to welcome volunteers all year along,” Weed said. “We’re constantly welcoming people to join the program and share what it is with their friends.”

Weed said volunteers can give a preference for where they would like to volunteer. Each volunteer must go through a one-day training session to learn the ins and outs of the program and what to expect when they meet their buddies for the first time.

“We have volunteers who come in because they were struggling readers and they want to give back, and we have others who love to read and they want to share that joy of reading,” Lindauer said. “Our Book Buddies volunteers range from high school students to 90 years olds. Book Buddies is really for anyone.”

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To become a Book Buddies volunteer, contact program director Debbie Lindauer at 812-376-4461 or [email protected].

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The Book Buddies program was created to provide individualized reading support for second and third grade students across Bartholomew County. The program takes place in all BCSC elementary schools and uses community volunteers who give an hour of their time each week to read with students.