June 16, 2023 —
Published by Inside Publications – 3.15.23
By Katie O’Brien, The Admiral at the Lake
Starting in 1993, The Admiral at the Lake’s Reading Buddy Program has stood the test of time, proving to be beneficial for both the residents at The Admiral at the Lake and the students at William C. Goudy Technology Academy [Goudy School] at 5120 N. Winthrop Ave.
Each week, third graders from the Goudy School take the short walk to The Admiral at the Lake, a Lifecare retirement community. Upon arrival, the children link up with a resident buddy, armed with a book of their choosing. While students read their book, residents from The Admiral may ask questions to check for comprehension and delve into further conversation.
Pulling back the layers
The program was born from a simple desire to instill a love of reading. The program certainly achieves this, showing that reading can be completed outside of the brick-and-mortar school and that books can reflect each child’s personality. But what’s truly made this program special and long-lasting is what’s beneath the layers.
The partnership encourages regular intergenerational engagement, offering a new perspective for many of the children who don’t have a traditional family life and may not even have grandparents in the picture. Interacting with the residents at The Admiral provides a new lens of the world to the students and another adult “buddy” in their life.
Reading each week also encourages students to practice their English outside of school. Kate DeMille and her husband Dr. Jose DiMauro have been participating in the program for nine years. Jose, who is a native Spanish-speaker, having grown up in Argentina, often links up with children who are learning English as a second language. “Teachers know that if a student who is a native Spanish speaker is having difficulty, Jose can support and communicate with that child,” said Kate.
Kathleen McCormack, 3rd Grade Teacher at the Goudy School, echoes that benefit, “We have a lot of students that are learning English as a second language and who have parents that are immigrants. So, many of them have been separated from their families. Having the children be able to practice their English skills while having that grandparent feel is a great feeling for them. It’s comforting. It’s not judgmental.”
Engaging the residents
At first glance, the program benefits seem directed at the children from the Goudy School. But the residents at The Admiral have benefitted equally, if not more so.
For some residents like Vera Dowell, participating in the program came naturally. Vera was a teacher before retiring at The Admiral and was quickly drawn to the program, bringing years of educational experience with her. As she evolved into a leader of the program, Vera has had other residents express interest in volunteering, some of whom don’t have a background in education and may not even have children of their own.
Vera has encouraged everyone to participate in the program, regardless of their background. “Get to know the children,” she shares, “Listen to them read and then talk to them about the book. Then, talk to them about anything!”
Her advice has encouraged more and more volunteers to participate in the program. In fact, the Reading Buddy program has become so popular that last week, there were more residents than children that showed up.
A bright spot
Whether you hear about the program from the residents at The Admiral, or the teachers at the Goudy School, one thing is clear. The program has become a bright spot in the week for everyone involved.
DeMille shares how mentoring the children has impacted her, “They are the most affectionate, beautiful children. At that age, it’s so sweet to work with them. The people living here are so happy to have these children in their lives.”
Likewise, the children love visiting each week. The partnership has even expanded from a weekly reading program to include special celebrations such as holiday parties, and an art exhibition. “The children benefit from the one-on-one attention and having someone genuinely interested in their life,” said McCormack. “They see that ‘this person cares about me, they want to help me get better, they want to hear what my story is.”
Many more years to come
As the Reading Buddy program celebrates 30 years, it shows no signs of slowing down. Be on the lookout for the third-grade students walking down W. Foster Ave. in Uptown. They’re on their way to meet their buddy.