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Sterling Teens Buddy Up with Young Readers

Teens Volunteer Time, Make Friends

Colton Wooldridge was diagnosed with dyslexia at an early age. Now, the Park View High School ninth-grader volunteers his time reading to Potowmack Elementary School students.

Potowmack Elementary School created a summer reading program, "Take a Vacation … With a Book." In June, Potowmack Elementary School parent liaison Helen Chang paired Park View High School, River Bend and Seneca Ridge middle school students with Potowmack Elementary School students, to read to them once a week, for six weeks throughout July and August at Cascades Library in Sterling.

"It’s still difficult for me to read today," Wooldridge said. "I used to get picked on, but I’ve always loved working with people, especially kids."

While Woolridge reads the latest Spider-Man novel to his reading buddy, Manny Jay, the Potowmack Elementary School student slippeed under the table. Moments later, he popped up and rubbed the teen’s shaggy hair with his fist.

"[Manny] loves reading Spider-Man, dinosaur novels and books about monsters," Wooldridge said. "He’s a pretty brave kid."

When Jay has a hard time sitting still, Wooldridge said he doesn’t get upset.

"It’s not a big deal. I allow him to be a kid," he said. "That’s what summer is for."

POTOWMACK ELEMENTARY School’s summer reading program began in 2001. The first year, parent volunteers read to 12 students. The next year, the numbers grew to 24 students. Now, in its sixth year, 45 teen volunteers read to 45 elementary-school students. "It’s great to see a sea of people with their little heads bent over books," Chang said. "The teens have taken over the program. We don’t use parent readers anymore."

In June, the teen volunteers met with Potowmack Elementary School librarian Michelle Copeland for training. Copeland gave teens strategies to help students decode words and engage them in the books they read.

The program is funded through a grant from the Loudoun Education Foundation, a private organization that funds projects that will enhance Loudoun County schools.

Foundation executive director Dawn Meyer said the best thing about this program is that it is easy to duplicate in other elementary schools.

"All you need is volunteers and space in your local libraries," she said.

The foundation offers PTO/PTA grants, as well as teacher grants to fund programs, like "Take a Vacation … With a Book."

With the help of the foundation, elementary-school students receive a book bag and library card holder at the beginning of the program, to promote reading at home.

In addition to bags and books, the students are fed pizza and snacks, set up by parent volunteers before the students arrive.

AT LUNCHTIME Monday, Park View High School junior Nikki Jean shares a box of pretzels and a handful of grapes with her reading buddy, Emily Buxton.

"We just got done reading a Lizzie McGuire chapter book," the third-grader said. "Now, we’re reading Shel Silverstein."

Jean and Buxton read Silverstein’s "Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back" to each other.

"I love meeting little kids. It’s a great way to volunteer and it’s a lot of fun," Jean said. "It’s rewarding, too, to see the kids improve. They get really excited."

Buxton said she looks forward to meeting with her high-school buddy once a week and plans on coming back next year.

"It really is a community project," Chang said. "Students respond much better to a teen reader than to a mom. They’re far more cool to read with."