Gateway: Living

Reading mentors have positive impact at Evergreen Elementary

Communities In Schools of Peninsula mentor Charlotte Smothers, left, plays a board game with Evergreen students William Watkins, Grant Fitzpatrick and Braden Overman before heading outdoors for a scavenger hunt on the last day of CISP’s Evergreen mentoring program this school year.
Communities In Schools of Peninsula mentor Charlotte Smothers, left, plays a board game with Evergreen students William Watkins, Grant Fitzpatrick and Braden Overman before heading outdoors for a scavenger hunt on the last day of CISP’s Evergreen mentoring program this school year. Special to the Gateway

Late last month as the weather improved, Communities In Schools of Peninsula’s reading program went on vacation at Evergreen Elementary, where CISP volunteer mentors work one-on-one with struggling students to improve their reading skills. The day was capped by playing board games indoors before adjourning to the school campus for a scavenger hunt following which everyone enjoyed an ice cream bar.

As one of CISP’s volunteer reading mentors, this is an annual letdown for me. The one hour a week I spend with 9-year-old Grant Kirkpatrick lets me feel we’re making progress improving his reading skills, skills without which his life ahead will be less than gratifying.

Young Grant proclaimed, “I got to learn words I didn’t know.”

CISP volunteer Kathy Bailey Kalinski said, “I have been a reading mentor since I first moved to the peninsula almost 10 years ago. My first student marched in and said, ‘I don’t like reading and neither does my dad!’ By the end of the year, he was an interested reader of non-fiction. That was it for me.”

Kalinski looks forward to re-engaging with our kids this fall.

Exulted Evergreen student Braydon Overman, “My favorite part was getting to see my mentor.”

Leslie Engllund noted, “I will be heading into my fifth year as a volunteer reading mentor at Evergreen. When we first moved here from Seattle in 2000, I worked at Evergreen as a lunch lady and listened to reading mentors, who at the time were staged in the hall at little desks with their young subjects. I was inspired and decided that some day I too would become a reading mentor. Now we have our own large room for the weekly CISP reading sessions with our wide-eyed, curious, hard working young students. My favorite part is to see the progress in reading ability from September to May! What accomplishments these kids can make. Big smiles all around! I love being here.”

Student Jimmy Buzzard’s favorite part was “that we got to read a lot.” His school mate Riley McCarthy added, “We got to have fun!”

For Brent Shown, being a mentor with CISP is very rewarding.

“It is fulfilling to invest my time in the life of another person,” Brown said. “I strive to be a mentor in all areas of my life. Volunteering with CISP is no exception. Working with two separate students one-on-one during the school year is meaningful. Bonds are created between them and me. How exciting it is at the end of the school year to reflect on their progress. It’s more than just listening to them read a book, it is showing them respect. It’s helping each one to value themselves. Sure, it is helping them learn to read better by reinforcing reading skills but it is so much more than that. It’s encouraging them, challenging them to be more than they are, to expand their world. I love spending time with these kids and encourage others to take time to invest in a child’s future.”

Enthused student Mckayla Pasley, “There were nice people who helped me read.”

The CISP Evergreen Reading Program provides reading help to first through third grade students under the leadership of CISP program coordinator Jordan Henderson, an Evergreen teacher who knows the students and the strategies they need to learn to become strong readers, explained Laurel Shultz, CISP program director.

“Our mentors are central to the program’s success; they focus on building positive relationships with children and help make reading fun,” Shultz said. “It is a testament to the commitment of CISP volunteers that they read each week with students over the course of the school year, and it pays off in excellent outcomes for every child.”

CISP was awarded the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce 2015 Nonprofit of the Year title.

According to Cathy Rich, CISP volunteer coordinator, the organization is currently recruiting new volunteers for the 2017-2018 school year.

“Evergreen is a school where we are in greatest need of mentors due to its distance out on the Key Peninsula,” Rich said. “I have found that our mentors discover that the distance is well worth the feeling of pure joy experienced when they help a child succeed in reading and form a meaningful bond that transcends all barriers to learning.”

Student William Watkins happily noted, “I got to listen and got to read and learn about things I can do in life.”

And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

If you’d like more information on CISP and feel you’d find mentoring as rewarding as do our volunteers, please call 253-884-5733 or contact Rich at cathy@cisofpeninsula.org.

Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at hughmcm26@gmail.com.

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