Senior citizens in Layton help first-graders build reading skills

Feb 29 2012 - 7:06pm

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Knowlton Elementary School students Sierra Yerman (left) and Abby Harding read with Sandie Buckley at Apple Village Assisted Living in Layton on Wednesday. The first-grade students spend time reading with the residents every week. (ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner)
Knowlton Elementary School students Annie Adair (right) and Emma Albrechtsen read with Mary Balboni at Apple Village Assisted Living in Layton on Wednesday. First-graders from the school are bused to the center every week so they can practice reading, and sometimes they read stories they've written themselves. (ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner)
Knowlton Elementary School students Whitney Avei (right) and McKenna Shumway read with Opal Wolfe at Apple Village Assisted Living in Layton on Wednesday. First-grade students at Knowlton are bused to the center every week to practice their reading. (ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner)
Knowlton Elementary School students Sierra Yerman (left) and Abby Harding read with Sandie Buckley at Apple Village Assisted Living in Layton on Wednesday. The first-grade students spend time reading with the residents every week. (ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner)
Knowlton Elementary School students Annie Adair (right) and Emma Albrechtsen read with Mary Balboni at Apple Village Assisted Living in Layton on Wednesday. First-graders from the school are bused to the center every week so they can practice reading, and sometimes they read stories they've written themselves. (ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner)
Knowlton Elementary School students Whitney Avei (right) and McKenna Shumway read with Opal Wolfe at Apple Village Assisted Living in Layton on Wednesday. First-grade students at Knowlton are bused to the center every week to practice their reading. (ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner)

LAYTON -- First-graders need all the practice they can get reading aloud to adults, says the reading coach at Knowlton Elementary.

Residents at Apple Village Assisted Living in Layton have the time and willingness to sit and listen to students read, she added.

So it seems to be the perfect match for Leslie Bertram's reading buddies program.

Each week, a couple of the first-grade classes take turns riding a bus to the center to read and perform special programs for their adopted grandparents.

It's a win-win for both sides, said first-grade teacher Linda Peterson.

"First-graders sometimes struggle with reading, but when they come here, they are uninhibited, so it ends up benefiting both sides."

Apple Village Activity Director Wendy Switzer said the residents look forward to the students' visit each week.

"They enjoy having that interaction with the kids. It gives them a little sense of being young again and boosts their spirits for the day," she said.

Bertram is quick to add that the activity works magic on the young children as well.

"The thing that is most exciting is seeing how they interact with the grandparents, because their whole countenance changes as they bond with them. They look different from they ever do at school."

Bertram said she started the program several years ago when she taught at another elementary school. After hearing about research suggesting that kids' self-esteem increases when they get a chance to serve, their test scores go up and bullying decreases, she believed the program was worth starting.

"They start to think about what makes them feel good and learn as young children that when you make someone else happy, it makes yourself happy."

The center's residents enjoy the benefits of serving, too.

"These people have spent their lives serving others, so it goes against their nature not to help people," Bertram said.

Verla Warren, 86, has been helping the children read every week for several years.

"I like to listen to the kids read to me, and I learn new things from the books they read," Warren said.

For the first-grader reading to Warren, it was more than just reading her book aloud.

"I like making the grandparents happy," said Britain Matthews, 7.

A school bus to bring the students to the center is expensive, so residents at Apple Village have done fundraisers for the program. One man recently donated his deposit to the program, Bertram said.

John Lyon, 89, said he enjoys watching the kids when they come each week and hopes he is helping them.

"It does them good to read to another person, and I don't let them get away with much," said Lyon, who patiently helped correct some words read to him by a first-grader.

The experience also brings back memories of when he used to do the same thing with his own kids.

"Back then, we didn't have television, so I read to them an awful lot until they knew it by heart," Lyon said.

Often, the students will read some of the stories they have written themselves.

Whitney Avei, 7, likes how the residents respond to her stories.

"It is fun to read to them, because they laugh when we read our books," she said.

Bertram said the students respond better, knowing they will be reading their own creations to the residents.

"When the kids have a reason to do something, not just because the teachers told them to, they are much better at doing it because they have a purpose."

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