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Southmoreland 'Reading Buddies' program ends year with party

| Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 9:04 p.m.
Paul Paterra | The Independent-Observer
Freshmen Rachel Garstecki (left) reads to a couple of her 'buddies,' kindergarten students Ronda Nagy (center) and Leah Moore.
Taking advantage of a beautful sunny day were the participats of the final day of the school year's Reading Buddies program as high school students and primary center students gathered on the banlk at the primary center May 30.
Sophomore Samantha Gray enjoys a moment with the three students who were her reading buddies all year (from left) kindergarten students Levi Graft, Gabe Overly and Gage Yaroscak.

It's been a common occurrence throughout the school year — students from Southmoreland High School getting together with their counterparts from the Southmoreland Primary Center on a Friday afternoon for a reading session.

Since May 30 was the last Friday of the school year a little party was involved.

This outdoor “Reading Buddies” party was the culmination of a full year of reading activities.

Primary center students also took part in a full-scale reading Olympics, in which they amassed 345,189 reading minutes.

Reading Olympics was revamped to emphasize reading throughout the year and help to nurture a lifelong love of reading and learning.

Olympic “medals” were awarded to students for how much time they spent reading. If a kindergarten student amassed 1,250 minutes of reading, a gold medal was awarded, 1,000 led to a silver and 750 a bronze. For first-grade students, the numbers were 2,500 for a gold, 2,000 for a silver and 1,500 for a bronze.

Eighty-six students earned gold medals (49 kindergarten students and 37 first-graders), 39 earned silver, (21 kindergarten and 18 first grade) and 48 garnered bronze (16 kindergarten and 32 first grade).

“It's worked nicely to incorporate the ‘Reading Buddies' for the whole year,” said Patti DeBiasio, primary center reading specialist. “We had a lot of involvement from the community, the parents. We had readers from the community. That we have the collaboration from the high school is incredible.”

“At first we were worried about the minutes (the students would read),” added fellow reading specialist Amy Pushkis. “At the end, we noticed over half of the children medaled, so it's working.”

“Reading Buddies” took a different approach in its second year, beginning at the onset of the school year.

“To see them kind of progress throughout the year and actually read the books to their reading buddies is really incredible,” said high school language arts teacher Jenna Hixson. “It's amazing to see the bonds since some kids have had the same reading buddies all year long. It's nice seeing the relationship that they've built.”

Sophomore Samantha Gray has been with the kindergarten trio of Gage Yaroscak, Levi Graft and Gabe Overly throughout the year.

“I had all my stuff bought and have been looking forward to this for so long,” she said. “When I go home I'll probably cry.”

Many high school students brought books as gifts for their young friends since it was the last time they would be getting together for the year.

“We just have a lot of really dedicated students,” Hixson said. “The only dedication they really need is knowing they're making a difference. So many of them want this mentor position.”

Freshman Haley Rollinson was among the 50 or so high school students enjoying the day

“I just love kids,” she admitted. “They're great. They make me so much happier.”

Rollinson was spending the time with McKenzie Thompson, a first-grader, with whom she was been with a lot this year. “She's great,” Thompson said of Rollinson. “I like to read with her. She's the best.”

Hearing Thompson say that moved Rollinson.

“I'm going to miss you,” she said to her friend with whom she plans to stay in touch. “I'm going to get emotional. It's kind of sad, but I know we're going to have new kids next year. We're just going to get to keep going with the program next year, I hope. It‘s really great. Reading is really important.”

Sophomore Briana Bunner said she got involved to be of help to the younger kids.

“I felt it would benefit them in a great way,” she said. “I know some of these kids may have issues at home. I think it benefits them. We just want what's better for the children.”

Pushkis has noticed the budding relationships, especially with the way the younger students look up to their older colleagues whom they view as role models

“They're so excited,” Pushkis said. “A couple times, we didn't have it because of the weather and they were so disappointed. For the high school students, it really is a enlightening experience.”

Dan Clara, primary center principal, beamed with pride with all of the reading accomplishments of his students and the work in conjunction with the high school.

“What really helps kids become better readers is to see others reading and model it for them and share with them why it's so good to do,” Clara said. “Having little ones work with our older ones is really good for them to see someone model that behavior. What's good for the older ones is many of them may be thinking they want to go into the profession of teaching or they may want to do something where they're helping others and this is their first experience when they're doing something selflessly just for the sake of doing it.”

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101.

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