Club Cultivates Youth Passion for Reading

Past the sunlit lost-and-found of Washington Elementary School, through the buzzing cafeteria, and downstairs to the library, a calm, cool refuge from the noise and heat of the outside world awaits. It is here that the Reading Buddies program can be found on Thursday afternoons.

Reading Buddies is a Berkeley High School (BHS) club whose members read to the kindergartners of the Washington Elementary after school program, who sit waiting for them on a rug of rainbow squares each week. The kids are split into groups with a high school reading buddy in charge of each group. The kids pick their books from the book cart, and then settle down around the room. Some sit up, while others curl in chairs, or lay on the rug to see the illustrations of the books that the high school students begin to read to them. The readers stop to ask the kids questions about the characters, the pictures, and the plot. They explain unfamiliar words and give background for the events in the books. They don’t rush through the stories; they give the kids time to process and build on this new information they are consuming. Some groups are chattier than others, and have more of a tendency to talk about whatever the book might make them think, until they need to be gently pulled back on topic. In one group reading a book about motorcycles, a kid named a rider in a photograph ‘peanut,’ while another argued that the name should be ‘helmet head.’ The kids are engaged in the stories and enchanted by the readers.

“The purpose of the program is to build a relationship with little kids through reading,” said Evelyn Yama,  junior and Reading Buddies vice president. “The program benefits kids because they have someone to look up to, and the kids also look forward to reading books that they like. There are Berkeley High students that used to go to Washington and remember having a reading buddy. You can build a very strong relationship with the kids and they will remember it forever,” said Yama. Aside from giving the kids a role model, Reading Buddies visits are also routine exposure to a skill that will be very valuable in the kids’ lives: reading. It is framed in a way that is enjoyable to them, and kindles a love for the activity. This will ease their transition into learning, and benefit them throughout their lifetimes. Daisy Paris-Kaufman, a BHS freshman and member of the club, said program’s purpose is to “get kids interested in reading, and want to learn how.”

Many kindergartners were happy to share their feelings on the Reading Buddies program, and said that they liked getting to choose their books and felt it helped them to learn.

The kindergartners are not the only ones who get something out of the program. This year, the club is going through a process to be recognized as official community service hours for the high schoolers. However, looking good on paper is not why BHS students love it. Paris-Kaufman is a reading buddy because “the kids are really cute, and it’s really fun to engage with them and see how they see and understand the world.” BHS students can join Reading Buddies by emailing arevwalker@students.berkeley.net.

Disclaimer: Arev Walker is a writer on the Jacket.

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