Volunteers help make reading Fun for Abel Elementary students

eearl@bradenton.comFebruary 21, 2013 

MANATEE -- They call themselves "The Reading Ladies. "

This team, made up of eight women and three men, volunteer their time to develop reading fluency for children from third grade through high school. For the past 20 years, this band of retired professionals has been using story writing, music, and hands-on activities as educational tools in Sarasota County.

For the first time the group has crossed into Manatee County to work with third-graders at Abel Elementary.

"The Reading Ladies" include retired principals, musicians, social workers, and business people who specialize in language development, mental health, and music theory. They spend eight full weeks in both the fall and spring working with a group of students.

Group leader Evelyn Lerman stressed that joining the group is about having the credentials, a love for students and being trustworthy.

"Here comes our joy," said member Suki Sellinger as the children paraded into the gifted classroom.

Lerman said they use a right brain approach to improve both reading skills and confidence in students who are either behind in school or simply do not want to attend.

"The left brain is the seat for reading and is more careful and orderly, but it can be tapped into through the right brain, which captures music and artistry," Lerman said.

Wednesday's lesson was on overcoming obstacles and examining good choices.

For a more intimate learning environment, the group works with three third graders from each of Abel Elementary's four third-grade classes. Abel Elementary chose third graders because the students have a solid foundation, yet are not reading as quickly or easily as they could be.

"If I could just help one student, I would be happy," said Reading Ladies volunteer Stanley Reganbogen, who said he wants to make education fun.

But as the students drew with pastels and created stories of monsters, poisonous fruits, adventure, and friendship, it was hard to see who was having the most fun: students or volunteers.

"It is important for us to interact with the students," Lerman said. "They bring a piece into our lives that we don't get often, which is youth and vigor."

In turn, Sellinger said that the program makes kids interact with people who are different than they are. The program also provides a safe environment where the children can be heard.

"I like drawing and writing stories. It educates us, and I can be in touch with my feelings," said eight-year-old Felisha Cunningham.

Sellinger said that they tell the students that this is a class where there are no mistakes.

"They are shy when they start, but the children gain confidence and are happy to talk to us," said volunteer Michael Shlifer. "I believe very strongly that this program helps students become stronger."

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