By Allison Nanni
Four years and counting, partners Pam Burish and Rayonda Cole, age 9, still enjoy reading aloud to one another each week in what has become one of their favorite spots in town — the Perley Primary Fine Arts Academy library.
From the fourth-grader’s perspective, the two have known each other so long that the Perley student does not specifically recall their first meeting. Then a kindergartner, Rayonda says she only remembers being “a little nervous” initially to meet a new adult. However, both Burish and Rayonda are all smiles as they explain how their relationship has blossomed over time.
Burish, an educational specialist with the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, first became involved in local schools when she attended a research meeting through work with principals from the South Bend Community School Corp. There she met former school superintendent and, at the time, Jefferson Middle School Principal Jim Kapsa.
Burish says, “Rayonda has always been enthusiastic about books and reading. We started our reading journey with pictures and colors in Kindergarten and have progressed to words, small print and chapter books. She is such an expressive reader now.”An elementary teacher for many years, Burish was impressed with Kapsa’s dedication, vision and focus for his school. Burish and her husband had moved to the South Bend area and found volunteerism as the best way to get to know the community, so she quickly agreed to serve as a mentor at Jefferson. Burish later learned about the Read to a Child program and volunteered at several primary schools until she came to Perley Primary five years ago. Burish and her husband, Tom, now both volunteer as “reading buddies” in the program at the fine arts academy.
Aside from reading together for a half hour each week at school, the reading buddies have also planned class parties, attended a Notre Dame women’s basketball game and school concerts, met one another’s family members and worked together on poetry and research projects. After Burish returned from a trip to the Amazon, the two even created and published a book together by writing a story to accompany the photos from the trip.
Although humble about her own accomplishments, Burish is quick to mention Rayonda’s additional talents outside the classroom. “Rayonda is a happy child with a supportive family. She is enthusiastic about doing all sorts of activities — from playing instruments and dancing at her church, to performing in ‘Richard III’ over the summer at the University’s Robinson Community Learning Center.”
Burish also praises Rayonda’s leadership skills: “It’s nice to see her lead a group. She acknowledges every idea as important and is sensitive to including others.”
These observations confirm what many studies indicate: When a child is read to, not only her reading improves — but so does her interest in other subjects. In addition, confidence, social skills, vocabulary and behavior in class improve. The National Academy of Education’s Commission on Reading identified the single most important activity for building knowledge required for the eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.
Pam has been “adopted” by teacher Courtney Baranay’s class and relishes the warm greetings, smiles and hugs each week from Rayonda and her classmates. Pam says, “With travel and very little preparation, the time commitment is only an hour a week and the ‘rewards’ are immense for both the child and the adult volunteer.”
To learn more about the reading to a child, call or email Jaundalynn Thomas (firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-283-8735)at Perley Primary Fine Arts Academy.