Reading Heroes

Nautilus Elementary School gives normal, everyday types of people a chance to be heroes—at least a hero to one particular child—through its Reading Heroes Program.


Reading Hero volunteer Sue Lorenzen and her student partner do their reading in the Nautilus school library. “Kids need help sometimes,” she says, “especially in reading.”

The Nautilus Reading Heroes Program was started last year by Terry Trinko, the Nautilus media assistant. (In the olden days, Mrs. Trinko would have been called the school librarian.) That first year, there were four reading heroes working with four students. For the 2008-09 school year, the program has grown to 24 reading heroes working with 24 students from the second and third grades. “Last year and this year we reached out to the Lion's Club for volunteers,” says Mrs. Trinko. “We also have some retired school district employees participating this time and some grandparents. Some volunteered because they heard about the program from a friend who was doing it.” The program also gets some publicity through the local chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). 

Reading Hero volunteers spend about 30 minutes each week reading aloud with a student partner. Mrs. Trinko says the idea is, “to help kids who are struggling with reading by building a one-on-one reading relationship that is not as success driven as what they do in the classroom.”

Reading Hero volunteers are given an orientation. Mrs. Trinko briefs them on the history and goals of the program. “We want to make the future better for kids,” she tells them, “so they can make the future better for all of us. Helping them improve their reading skills is the best gift you can ever give a child.” She explains that all the students in the Reading Heroes Program last year were able to move up one grade level in their reading abilities. Lisa Morgan, a Nautilus 2nd grade teacher, Lois Miller, the school's literacy coach, and Dee Bumpas, intervention specialist, also speak during the orientation.

During the orientation, the volunteers watch a video about Duolog Reading. This is the structured method used in Reading Heroes for students and their coach to read together. The rules are simple and non-intrusive, and they help reassure coaches who may be wondering if they can really do this. The orientation also includes instructions on how students select and check out books to read with their coach, and how students keep a log of what they have read. Each volunteer is given a binder containing program materials. Finally, the volunteers meet their students. More about that in a moment.


Second year Reading Hero volunteer Shirley Ries reads with her student partner.

Most of the 2008-09 Reading Hero volunteers are new, but a few are returning from last year. Shirley Ries is a returning volunteer. She originally heard about the program through the DAR. She looks right at home as she sits at a table in a classroom filled with children and reads with her partner. When they finish the book, Shirley and her partner move to a computer where she helps the student take an online test on what she read. Asked about her participation in Reading Heroes, Shirley says, “I am having so much fun. You do feel you can make a difference.” She says her partner this year is very quiet and shy, but she thinks she will be able to make a connection as they spend more time together.

Mrs. Trinko is very happy that she has enough volunteers this year to assign one to each of the students who have been recommended for the program by their teacher.

During the orientation, when the volunteers were being paired up with their student partners, one volunteer asked her new student partner why he looked familiar. “I live on your street,” the student answered. The volunteer thought about it for a moment and made the connection. “You're one of those kids who plays in my driveway,” she said. The volunteer did not sound happy about the kids who play in her driveway. When asked if she would like a different partner, the volunteer said, “No, we will try it out.” No one actually spoke it out loud, but you might think of the last line from the movie Casablanca. “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Maybe it is.

Reading Heroes: all about reading, but also about making new friends.

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