Read On Young Readers

Read On Young Readers

Volunteers pass on love of reading

Volunteer reader Elaine Runkle, reading with Jeanyne Rhaigne Tabao , says “sessions are a very good way to pass on the love of reading.”

Volunteer reader Elaine Runkle, reading with Jeanyne Rhaigne Tabao , says “sessions are a very good way to pass on the love of reading.”

Local educator David Walrod, President, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, recently said, “Reading skill is the best predictor of high school graduation and going on to college.” Knowing of that predictor, some community members wanted to help local students succeed. They formed the volunteer group Read On Young Readers, focusing on pre-kindergarten to third grade students, to mitigate the reading loss experienced by some during COVID. The group has continued the program after in-person school classes resumed to add to students’ chances of educational success through good reading skills. Braddock Elementary School’s assistant principal Holly Dowling says, “We are thrilled to have the program here and the needed one-on-one time for vulnerable students.”

Kelly Price, who organized the group with Larry Kugler, shares that their goals have morphed slightly since normal school schedules restarted. The group still hopes to instill a love of reading and to provide another reliable adult in a student’s life. The group focuses on Title 1 schools, whose students might face additional challenges, or not have English as their first language. While the volunteers do not teach students how to read, they do focus on the basics of comprehension, plot prediction, diction, and other elements of written prose. All students receive three new books each month; donations providing book purchases. A monthly book packing meeting brings volunteers together to prepare the books for distribution, including inclusion of small toys donated by the mother of a volunteer, a former teacher.

Would you enjoy reading with kids too?

The all-volunteer Read On Young Readers group members, now about 22 strong, with all sorts of backgrounds, including some former teachers and school administrators, enjoy reading age and content appropriate books with the young students. They particularly enjoy hearing their students’ questions and comments, and are often reminded that “kids say the darndest things.” Volunteer Cindy Sweeter, a retired early childhood educator who worked only at Title 1 schools during her career, says she understands the positive impact of one-on-one relationships that reading with a student brings. And she adds, “we often get back more than we give.”

Volunteer Elaine Runkle shares that this is something she wanted to do since before she retired from a career in finance. She finds it very rewarding, saying, “I get more [out of the sessions] than the kids do. … The time frame for reading with my own kids went too fast. The 20 minute sessions are a very good way to pass on the love of reading.” She adds that reading with the same child for a year or more helps to convey that another adult cares when one or more parents may be absent from the home, or are busy earning a wage to find enough time for interaction while working long hours. 

The ROYR group currently is assisting students in three Fairfax County schools: Mount Eagle, Mason Crest, and Braddock. Through the FCPS’s Mentoring Program, volunteers undergo fingerprinting and a background checks, and receive guidance on working with students before they begin direct work. Sessions could be online or in person.

Assistant principal Dowling shares, “Students look forward to the sessions, but we can’t lose instruction time, so reading sessions are held at lunch time.” That means finding time and a quiet place to read can be challenging.

At Braddock Elementary on Feb. 23, the group’s volunteers were joined by guest readers Braddock Supervisor James Walkinshaw and Mason District School Board member Ricardy Anderson. Walkinshaw praised Braddock Elementary, as his “favorite school” for their amazing kids and staff. He said the great thing about the school is, “So many different groups contribute to the work here.” He supports ROYR because, “if no one at home is modeling a love of reading, seeing volunteers love reading, it’s going to stick with them.”

Now in the program’s fourth year, ROYR is working in-person with 33 individual students and two pre-kindergarten classes in small groups for their second year at Braddock. Price hopes to entice more reading volunteers to join the group. Fifteen more readers would allow the group to expand to an additional school. She asks if you or someone you know would enjoy sharing the love of reading, their sign-up form can be found at as well as their link for donations.