Reading Brings Meaning to Young and Old
An educational axiom maintains that Children learn to read in grades one to three; beyond that they read to learn. Students who enter fourth grade with appropriate reading skills hold increased odds of completing high school and succeeding in life pursuits.
The message holds both challenge and purpose for Val Moran, 80. Five days a week she drives from her Eugene home to spend mornings encouraging students at Creslane Elementary School to “grow their brains.” To learn to read, to sit still, to acquire the tools of success.
“It’s been a long summer,” she told me when we met two weeks ago at a training session for about 30 Creslane reading program volunteers. It wasn’t the heat, or the fires, or the television reruns that dulled her days. It was too much time without kids or a classroom. She’s been waiting to go back to school.
“Everybody needs a reason to get up,” says the retired medical rehabilitation nurse. During the school year, Moran finds her reason for rising each morning in the Creslane grade school students she meets in reading circles.
On September 17, she begian her sixth year as a volunteer reading tutor at Creslane Elementary School, part of the Intergenerational Reading Collaboration (IRC) launched in the Creswell school in 2013.
“I feel we have a really important job to do,” Moran says. “I feel we lead kids to knowledge.”
The program, tested in 2012 with a pilot in two second grade classrooms, has expanded to provide reading support for about 400 Creslane students in 16 classrooms at four grade levels – kindergarten through third grades.
“We try not to put any damper on what the kids can do,” says Moran “We talk about the brain as a muscle and when you use a muscle, it will grow. It affects their personalities when they feel they can have an effect on their brain.”
It also affects their reading skills and their odds of graduating from high school, according to test results and educational research. Even behavior seems to benefit from the attention of caring adults in the classroom.
Eugene retiree Laurie Swanson Gribskov, 65, provided the spark behind Creslane’s IRC program, inspired by a program developed in Baltimore. She points to national studies that target fourth grade reading levels as a critical marker of future achievement.
Reading scores for primary students at Creslane Elementary show steady improvement in the five years since volunteers joined teachers to provide group and individual reading assistance, says Gribskov.
Most of the volunteers behind these advances are retired adults from Creswell, Springfield and Eugene.
During the recent volunteer training session at the school, I sat in with the group that included a handful of retired school teachers, a couple of ministers, a combat medic, a computer technician, a postal worker and a Bi-Mart cashier. Each commits to at least 10 hours of volunteer time each week in the school year.
Sherry Smith, 63, retired a year ago after 30 years with Bi-Mart stores in Eugene, Redmond, and Creswell. Retirement was fine for a few months, but soon she found herself missing connection with people and community.
“I love kids, I love to read, I wanted to help out,” she says, explaining motives that led her to call Creslane Elementary School last year and ask if there were places she could help. She found her niche by shadowing a couple of IRC volunteers at work with student reading groups.
“It seemed simple enough,” she recalls. “Volunteers work with small groups of children helping them with reading and comprehension skills. You don’t have to be college educated. It’s a good place to be when you’re a retiree.”
This year she is leading groups three mornings a week. And she has learned that the program offers more than reading help. It offers companionship and adult attention to kids who may not get that elsewhere.
”It’s been an eye-opening experience,” Smith says. “I have learned a lot about what kids and teachers go through today. Many children do not have adult support and attention at home.”
She has also learned valuable things about herself—that she has skills she hadn’t recognized, she says. A passion for reading opened the door to a new way of contributing to her community. We don’t get paid for this,” she says, “but it pays us back when we see the results of student reading statistics.”
Apparently other volunteers feel the same sense of gratification. The IRC program has a retention rate of 90% for volunteers. And there’s always room for more. Some volunteers serve as trained substitutes for reading tutors who are traveling or ill.
This fall Roger Scovil, 68, starts his third year as a volunteer in the reading program he credits with helping him through a time of transition after retirement from a career in the ministry. For 20 years after graduation from the University of Oregon, Scovil worked for a heavy construction business in Harrisburg. During those years, he felt a call to the pulpit. He responded with studies at Northwest Christian University in Eugene.
Ministry carried him and his family to churches first in Creswell, then Baker City and finally Myrtle Point. After 28 years in the pulpit, retirement brought him and his wife back to Creswell to be near family.
“I struggled in retirement,” Scovil says. “I felt I had lost my purpose in life.” Then he heard Doug Allison, pastor at Creswell Church of Christ, speak from the pulpit about a school reading program that he and other church member were supporting as a community effort.
“I felt called to get involved with IRC because it would give me purpose and meaning in life.” Scovil says. “My purpose is serving the Lord, but serving the Lord isn’t just going to church—it is serving community too. I repurposed my life.”
Intergenerational Reading Collaboration
Laurie Swanson Gribskov: email@example.com
Creslane Elementary School: 541-895-6140
Carolyn Scott Kortge of Eugene is a former Register-Guard editor and writer, and author of The Spirited Walker. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.