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Rolling Readers

The author, in back, with Piedmont Elementary Rolling Readers. (Photo submitted)1 / 2
Annie reads to the class. (Photo by S.E. Livingston)2 / 2

I didn't realize when I signed up to be a "Rolling Reader" in kindergarten classes that I was signing up for celebrityhood, a personal fan club and large group hugs. Every week my 13-year-old daughter, Annie, and I get an esteem boost when we go to Piedmont Elementary School as Rolling Readers. We walk in with our bag of books and leave with full hearts and smiling faces.

If you have spent time with children you know that they love to have stories read to them. The more interaction young children have with stories and language, the richer their learning experience and potential for academic skills. Unfortunately not all children have access to this activity. It was this observation of inequality which sparked friends Sue Henke and Jean Brozic to fight illiteracy by instilling a love for reading and books in children in the Twin Ports.

Sue read an article about Robert Condon, who began volunteering regularly to read aloud at homeless shelters in San Diego in 1991. In 1998 he expanded his program by chartering local chapters around the country and called it "Rolling Readers USA." Because of their shared passion for literacy and learning, Sue and Jean began to investigate ways to start a local Rolling Reader chapter. When Jean's son was a second-grade teacher at Blaine School in Superior, he and five other teachers agreed to invite Rolling Readers into their classrooms. The successful pilot became an official Rolling Readers chapter. Although the national organization ceased operation in 2005, our local Rolling Readers chapter has continued to pick up steam and is now the only Rolling Reader chapter left.

In the Twin Ports there are 41 Rolling Reader volunteers who visit 80 classrooms in nine schools. Including the students at the Neighborhood Youth Service who benefit, that's 1483 students being read to every week!

Rolling Readers enhance classroom literacy time. The goal isn't to supplant or substitute the work of the teacher. Rather, Rolling Readers add an additional adult support to the classroom atmosphere, build language experience through different learning approaches and at the least giving the classroom teacher a little space to work one on one with students or problem-solve.

Rolling Reader volunteers visit the same classroom(s) every week and read stories of their own choosing to the children. Sometimes the stories are based on themes. Sometimes the volunteers share their own stories or enrichment opportunities. Because of the consistency of the program, the students and Rolling Reader volunteers establish a relationship. And there is a surprise at the end of this Rolling Reader experience. At the end of the school year the Rolling Readers program gives each student in participating classrooms a quality book to take home.

Rolling Readers in Duluth/Superior have partnered with Randy Kay of R.L. Kaye Sales and Marketing in New York City for over 15 years. Randy works with book discounters to help Rolling Readers find great children's book at affordable prices to give the same book to each child in a grade level.

In order to fund the philanthropy habit, Sue and Jean have organized golf tournaments for the last 15 years.

This is one of those domino stories. Every week when Annie and I visit our classrooms, the children, who feel they know us by now, come running to tell us about the happy things in their lives. They are excited to hear the stories we've brought. They can't wait to play a rhyming game or do some stretching activities. They are happy to see us, and us them. This experience is repeated in classrooms all over our cities, brightening the day of almost 1,500 students. This is all because Sue and Jean acted on an idea they read about in the newspaper about one man who picked up a book to read to kids.

If you have an hour a week and would like to become a Rolling Reader volunteer, or you would like to support the Rolling Reader Book Giveaway, or you are a teacher or principal who would love the benefit of a Rolling Reader in the classroom, please contact Sue Henke (suehenke@charter.net) or Jean Brozic.

S.E. Livingston

Monthly Budgeteer columnist S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota and lives in Duluth.

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