Literacy program unites students

By Ezra Silk

January 17, 2014

Literacy Program

WINDHAM - Teen Trendsetters, a Barbara Bush Foundation program, is in its second year at Windham Primary School. At 8:30 a.m. on a recent Thursday, Ariana Ray, 6, and Jordan Torelli, 16, sit side-by-side on a windowsill in the Windham Primary School library, flipping through “Heat Waves,” a picture book by Lydia Carlin. Ray, a first grader at the primary school, and Torelli, a junior at Windham High School, have been reading together every Thursday morning since the start of the school year as part of Teen Trendsetters, a national mentoring program sponsored primarily by the Barbara Bush Foundation.

The program, which is now in its second year at the primary school, pairs high school students with elementary school students who are falling behind in their literacy skills. The high school students, equipped with lesson plans designed by Scholastic, do their best to teach the younger students how to understand and pronounce words.

“I have a problem with reading, so this is what I’m doing to help me read,” Ray said.

Torelli, who opts out of her second-period study hall in order to be a reading mentor, said that she volunteers for the program because she likes hanging out with Ray.

“It’s really cool to see the effect on Ariana, because her reading has improved so much over the year,” Torelli said.

Amy Denecker, the librarian at Windham High School, has been planning a literacy mentoring program at district schools for nearly four years. When she learned about Teen Trendsetters, she decided it was worth joining the program.

“It’s really meant to encourage reading – to provide them with role models who are older,” Denecker said. “Reading can help them understand some basic literacy concepts.”

Denecker and her associates have paired 21 first-graders with 21 respective high school students for the Thursday-morning program, which runs from 8:20-9:05 a.m. Teen Trendsetters benefits the teens, as well, Denecker said.

“I’ve had several of the mentors say after they’ve been doing this that it’s improved their literacy,” Denecker said. “In teaching, you learn to do better yourself, and so in reading through the materials and figuring out how they’re going to help the kids, they’ve found ways to improve their own reading and to better themselves, so that they’re doing better in their own work.”

According to Julie Young, a teacher at the primary school, the Windham campus provides an excellent setting for Teen Trendsetters.

“Because of our campus, we have a really unique opportunity to connect our youngest learners to our most experienced learners within our campus because we are just steps away,” Young said. “They just walk over.”

Young said she has been impressed by how quickly the mentors and protégés have bonded.

“They’re so eager to meet and sit down and read,” Young said. “That’s just a magical thing to see.”

Literacy Program
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