Julie Bayer, teacher at Georgetown Middle School, was planning for the upcoming year this summer. When it came to her reading class, Bayer was thinking “outside the box” about writing lessons that would engage her students and ensure their growth. In her research, Bayer came across an intriguing idea – reading buddies. Everything she read pointed to improvement in academic performance, classroom behavior and self-esteem for students involved in a reading buddies program.
Once Bayer found a partner in teacher, Kirsten Conner, the two joined forces with Garth Elementary School teacher, Lisa Hanson to create their own program. Bayer’s sixth grade class and Conner’s seventh grade class walk to Garth every Wednesday, where each middle schooler is paired with a student from Hanson’s third grade class. The children enjoy time eating lunch and socializing before settling down to read together.
Feedback from Reading Buddies participants has been overwhelmingly positive. Sixth grader Seth Lovejoy says, “It is awesome. We both get to read and then we have time to discuss the stories.” Evan, a 3rd grader, reports, “It is good to have a partner to read with. It makes reading more fun.” His classmate, Isaiah, states, “The big kids are good to read with.”
Conner is proud of her students. “They have been so excited from the very beginning. Everyone chose his or her own book, based on Lexile level, and even wrote a lesson for the young buddies. These students have really blossomed in a leadership role and they have a newfound confidence about reading out loud.”
“Staff at both schools have been so supportive – and that is crucial to the success of a program like this. Keri Keyes, cafeteria manager at Garth, was instrumental in making the whole process seamless,” reports Bayer. Garth and GMS offer free lunch to all students, which made preparations for these field trips much easier than a typical trip. The middle schoolers are able to walk through the serving line and pick out a healthy lunch using the same lunch pin number they do at GMS.
Georgetown Middle School principal Cari Boyd says of the program, “I was thrilled with the idea when Mrs. Bayer first approached me about what she wanted to do with her reading class. The program has been such a success that I would put it at the top of the list in regards to our most successful initiatives this school year. One of my goals for GMS is to build relationships with our feeder schools so the transition from elementary to middle is a little easier for students and parents. Mrs. Bayer and Ms. Conner have helped me begin that process with reading buddies. We now have an entire class of students at Garth who will see two familiar faces on their first visit to middle school. What a comfort that will be to them!”
With so much success in their first year of reading buddies, next year’s plans include Bayer and Conner expanding the program. The teachers hope to eventually create a chapter that brings middle school and high school readers together.