Reading, cute stuffed animals, and charity. Those aren't three words that are normally put together, but at Flint Lake Elementary they are synonymous. On Wednesday morning at Flint Lake Elementary second grade students presented a check of $234.16 to the Porter County United Way to help fund the Reading Buddies program to other schools around the county.
The program, which has been a part of the second grade's routine for the past five years, allows students to read to a furry stuffed animal for 15 minutes each morning. "Self-reading" to their chosen Buddy every day helps the students increase their love for reading and helps improve their diction.
Erin Blumenthal, a teacher from one of the four classrooms, explained that the animals stay in their clutches from when they arrive to when they leave the second grade.
"They'll whisper read to the buddies, they'll show them the pictures - it's a really neat thing. They have the same buddy all year and by the end of the year they get to take them home. For sure, though, the excitement in reading has skyrocketed because of this program," Brumenthal said.
Blumenthal also said that the program isn't just to have a fuzzy friend to read to, it's a program that helps further their sense of benevolence.
"I think there's a huge increase in compassion with this program because they take care of them. This year I've had girls bring in clothes for their buddies, and they go through outfit changes. They are all so excited have a Buddy, and they're invested in them every single day," she said.
"It's increasing their fluency, their words per minute, and it gives them a sense of security. They treat their Buddy like a family member and they really are a part of our classroom." Bottos explained. "The more they read to their buddies the more they're going to want to do it outside of the classroom."
The increase in the student's love for reading and the reverbs from their daily time with the Buddies is tangible throughout the grade. Sarah Bottos, another second grade teacher, said that the program has had an immediate effect on her kids.
Even if the teachers are aware of the change the program does to their students, it's a proven fact. The passion to read allows around 80% of the students the ability to read at grade level and nearly 75% of the kids in the program met the Oral Reading Fluency benchmark at the end of the academic year. That number is a drastic difference from the 40% which is the amount of students who met the mark at the beginning of the year.
The extent of the Buddies Program doesn't just teach them compassion and further their reading levels, it has also let them become charitable towards other kids in the community. The money that was handed over to the Porter County United Way was all due to the the students fundraising. For the past two years the student have sold t-shirts that are embellished with a design that was drawn by one of Flint Lake's Explorers.
All of the student's effort to sell the shirts and to raise money for others was an heartwarming event to witness for the people at the United Way. Mackenna Schon, the Assistant Director for the Porter County United Way Regional Volunteer Center, said that seeing the kids have a true sense of giving through the program really shows the importance of Reading Buddies.
"They really understand the value of the program and they really understand the value of Reading Buddies to the extent that they want other kids to experience the program." Schon stated. "It really sets you heart on fire when you see youth trying to help others, especially when it's a program that helps their age group. It hits it home because they're not helping their little siblings but they're helping their peers."
Overall the value of the Reading Buddies program at Flint Lake, and the incredible amount of money raised to help other kids experience having a buddy, is something everyone involved prides themselves on. Dr. James McCall, Principal of Flint Lake Elementary, said that the program encompasses all of what Flint Lake means to teach.
"We have a motto here - it's to 'Work Hard, Have Fun, Be There For One Another'," McCall stated. "Reading Buddies exemplifies what it means to be there for one another. Having them give back and continue to support others by charity teaches a great life skill. We're very proud of them today and every day that they continue to be such an outstanding group of students."