Barrie Public Library — The Barrie Advance

The Barrie Advance 

Help a Kid to Read: Teenage Tutors Required!

by Paula Terry-Lancaster

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The Barrie Public Library is currently looking for teens aged 14 – 18 to help with its Reading Buddies program.

The program, which is intended to help elementary school children with their reading, matches up a teen with a younger child for one-on-one sessions, which typically happen to the convenience of both individuals. There’s no set time, but the teen and child usually meet for an hour once a week at the Library, and because of the program’s huge popularity there are many more children on the waiting list than the Library can currently accommodate.

“We desperately need more teens,” says Jane Salmon, Manager of the BPL’s Children’s & Youth Services. “We’ve currently got 21 volunteers matched up with younger kids, but there are at least 15 more children on our waiting list.”

The program, which began in September, 2004, has been hugely successful right from the get-go. “Most of our kids are aged between 6 and 12, and just need a bit of encouragement to turn reading into an enjoyable activity,” says Salmon. “We don’t need our teens to be in the Academic stream at high school, or to be intellectual over-achievers. They simply need to know how to read, and enjoy being with a younger kid for an hour a week. The time they put in counts towards the Community Service hours they need in order to graduate, so it’s a classic win-win situation for any teen who enjoys reading and who’s prepared to help a younger child.”

The program’s not intended to replace the Reading Recovery intervention strategy which many elementary schools have in place for struggling readers. Rather, it’s intended to be a complement to the school curriculum, and give a kid an hour with a teen who gets to know him or her really well over many weeks spent reading together.

The emphasis at the Library is on fun – the pair play word games and hangman, and take turns reading to each other. “It’s not like reading in a school environment,” says Salmon. “Often these kids find reading a challenge, something that’s difficult and onerous, and our teens help make it a much more enjoyable experience for them.”

Library staff help train all the teens who come forward to volunteer for the program. First, the teen completes a volunteer application form at the Library; then there’s a volunteer interview process, and, after a police check, the cost of which is refunded after three months’ service, the teenager’s ready to start.

The staff prepare the young mentors for their work through the use of a fabulous manual prepared by Frontier College, Canada’s oldest and most well-respected specialist in literacy and non-formal learning that trains more than 5,000 volunteers a year across the country. “By the time they meet their very own Reading Buddy, the teens are very well prepared,” says Jane Salmon. “The hour the two spend together becomes an activity both partners really look forward to each week.”

Any teenager interested in becoming a Reading Buddy mentor at the BPL should call the Library at 728-1010 ext. 7019 and speak to a staff member at the Children’s Information Desk