Lake Bluff reading buddy program enriching
Students stream into Lake Bluff Elementary School for a special reading program. The board that governs the school is poised to see new faces after the April 9 election. | For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 27, 2012 3:06PM
LAKE BLUFF — When Lucy Surkamer spotted her reading buddies amidst the crowd from visiting Waukegan and North Chicago schools, she couldn’t help but be excited.
“I ran right up to them and said, ‘Hi, guys,’” the Lake Bluff Elementary School fifth-grader said.
It was, after all, a meeting of friends. Surkamer had visited with her third-grade visiting reading partners Melissa and Sinai before, has traded postcards back and forth, and will travel to their school this spring.
“They seemed happy to see me and I was happy to see them,” Surkamer, 10, said.
The December visit ended with a hug, but their was a lot that happened between the welcoming “hi” and hug “good-bye.” Surkamer and her reading buddies talked about their holiday traditions, shared a snack and, most importantly, read a book together. This time, the book was “Too Many Tamales.”
“We’ll take turns reading pages,” Surkamer said. When one of her younger charges struggles with a word, Surkamer helps them out.
“I tell them what it is and what it means. I like reading,” Surkamer said, adding: “It’s nice to have a friend from a different culture.”
The December visit to Lake Bluff Elementary School was part the Sarah’s Dream: Read to Me! program facilitated by Lake County Cares. In all, some 200 third graders from Clearview Elementary School in Waukegan and Oak Terrace Elementary School in Highwood visited Lake Bluff, while students from Forrestal Elementary School in Great Lakes traveled to Lake Forest Country Day School.
Program Director Liz Leutwiler truly loves the reading buddies program, now in its third year.
“One of the main focuses is literacy and you have mentoring. The interesting thing is it works both ways,” Leutwiler said.
Establishing relationships is key to the program.
“It becomes a real friendship” for both students and teachers, Leutwiler said. “The community is getting together.”
Multi-age teacher Marcy Lenox said the program benefits her Lake Bluff students in several ways, from providing extra reading practice to building self-confidence.
“Any time a student gets the opportunity to feel good about their own reading skills, it boosts their confidence, which is important in reading,” Lenox said. “If you struggle with reading, you’re going to struggle with other parts of the curriculum.”
Lenox considers the social interaction with students from another community a “culturally enriching experience” for her students.
Kellie Bae, literacy specialist at Lake Bluff Elementary School, sees many benefits from her school’s participation in the Lake County Cares reading buddy program.
“Our fourth and fifth graders are given the opportunity to see themselves as leaders, teachers and role models. It helps our students to sharpen their communication and conversational skills,” she said. LBES students also must be active listeners with their buddies to respond to thoughts, questions and reading prompts. In return, LBES students “gain an appreciation for other cultures and people from neighboring communities,” she added.
Leutwiler witnesses one of the most heart-warming moments of the program on the return bus trip when each visiting student has received another book with their own name on the nameplate. In all, each student receives three books a year.
“Every single time, when the kids get back on the bus, they’re reading their books. Wow. That really struck me the first time three years ago,” Leutwiler said. It still impresses her today.
Leutwiler hopes to broaden the reading buddy program to include more children.
“We’d like to expand to program to other schools throughout the county,” Leutwiler said. “That would be my dream.”
Surkamer has a dream of her own, fueled largely by her experience with the reading buddy program.
“I’d like to teach at hospitals and do things for kids,” Surkamer said. “This (experience) encourages me for when I’m older.”