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Garfield Reading Program Crosses Cultural Boundaries

Garfield Elementary School student "Kunvar" sported his "yarmulkes," an Indian head covering, as he read "Curious George," to Dan Horner, co-pastor of Springfield United Methodist Church. Their reading lesson crossed cultural boundaries in one of the multi-cultural schools in the Springfield area.

"Kunvar read two books to me," said Horner, who co-pastors and participates in the Garfield program with his wife Pam.

She has seen the reading program succeed since it started with the informal relationship between Garfield and the church.

"I think it really supports the reading program here, the sustain ability is really attributed to the success," Pam Horner said.

Dan Horner has two boys he helps read during the week. One is from Afghanistan and Kunvar is from India. Wife Pam has three girls she helps. Two are from Pakistan and one is English speaking. In all, 30 church members in the 19-93 age range teach 75 students at Garfield. The program started in November and will carry over to next year. Some of the reading instructors in the program aren't members of the church but they heard about it from a church member and volunteered.

Garfield has a volunteer room specifically for the program. The room has the students' names and books mounted on a board. When the volunteers come, they know just where to go and what books the particular students are working on. It gives the program structure.

The volunteers go through a one-hour training session with assistant principal Maureen Marshall and reading teacher Nicole Ball before they are matched up with the students. Ball even went as far as making an instructional video of her reading to some students.

Some of the volunteers are retired or stay-at-home mothers but others work.

"One guy works full-time and he recruited his daughter," Dan Horner said. "He comes in on his lunch hour."

Marshall has been involved since the beginning. Due to the success of this partnership, Ball and Marshall nominated the church for the "Volunteer Fairfax," award this year.

"It arose out of need," Marshall said. "The idea started because we have so many students that don't speak English at home. The room and the spirit of the members makes them part of the Garfield community. There's somebody here everyday."

THE STUDENTS aren't the only ones benefiting from the multi-cultural aspect of the reading arrangements. Not only do the volunteers teach reading skills, they have to have an understanding of the home-country sometimes. This became apparent when Pam Horner came to the word "meadow," with one of her students.

"If you grow up in a very concentrated area of Pakistan, you don't know what a meadow is," she said. She had to explain it to the student.

On another occasion, the subject of the book was slightly adjusted by Pam Horner's student.

"We were reading about Johnny Appleseed and she explained that they grew mangos in Pakistan," she said.

Crestwood Elementary, also part of Cluster V with Garfield, is in the second year of its reading program. Instead of church volunteers, Crestwood tapped into the pool of community members from different fields. One volunteer, for example, is Bob Gray, a bank manager in Springfield. Crestwood assistant principal, Lauren Sheehy, was a driving force behind the program. The school currently has 12 volunteers and 13 students in the program.

"It's about helping students with their reading but also about mentoring," Sheehy said. "We tapped the resource within our immediate community as well as the whole Springfield community."