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Judith Berlow, a Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club volunteer, stops during her reading period with Ballard Elementary students to discuss a topic she wants them to understand.
East County Wednesday, Mar. 2, 2016 5 years ago

Volunteers' motives easy to read when it comes to Books for Kids program

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Lakewood Ranch Rotary initiative promotes literacy in Manatee County elementary schools.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

When it came to excitement on a winter's day at Ballard Elementary School in Bradenton, the tornado drill came in a distant second.

Teacher Ann Dietch had to direct her students into an adjoining classroom and they buried their heads in their laps as the required safety procedures were practiced. Standing on the other side of the room were Michael and Judith Berlow, who had to wait for an extra 15 minutes to make their usual presentation.

The Berlows, Country Club East residents, represent the Lakewood Ranch Rotary Initiative "Books for Kids" and they quietly waited their turn. After the all-clear was given, the students marched back into Dietch's room, only they didn't go back to their seats.

Instead, they found spots on the floor in front of a wooden rocking chair, where Michael Berlow plopped down. He looked out at the children, then began reading Mr. Lincoln's Way.

When Michael Berlow, or Judith, read at Ballard Elementary, they don't rush through from the first page to the last. Every time they reached a fun or complicated concept, they stopped and prompted some conversation with the children. They figured things out before they continued.

Michael Berlow, a retired physician and a Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club volunteer, reads to third-grader Bella Diaz as part of the Books for Kids program.
Michael Berlow, a retired physician and a Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club volunteer, reads to third-grader Bella Diaz as part of the Books for Kids program.

"They are like family," said Dietch, who sits to the side and only interjects when necessary.

The conversations with the students were not forced or rehearsed. "We don't plan this," Dietch said. "We are on the same wave length."

Although the Berlows often volunteer their time to read at Ballard, as 38 other Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club volunteers do at schools all over the country, this day was special as they had brought brand new, age-appropriate story books to hand out as part of the Books for Kids program that promotes literacy. They spread them out on the floor and Dietch called the students one-by-one to make a selection.

Each child make a quick decision, clutching their reward as if it was Easter candy.

For the students, it's just plain fun. For the Berlows and Dietch, it's an important step forward.

"You can see the progress," Michael Berlow said of the students' appreciation for reading. "We know we are making a contribution to the education of these children."

His wife shook her head in affirmation.

"You can tell how much they read the books," said Judith Berlow. "Month-after-month, you can tell how well-used those books are."

Dietch said her students have an appreciation for reading, which is obvious when they show their excitement at the Berlows arrival. She noted by the end of the semester, all her students would have seven or eight books provided by Books for Kids and the Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club.

On the wall of the classroom was a reading chart, with the students' progression marked by a graph. It's a steadily upward path that has been enhanced by the Rotary Club's program and by volunteers such as the Berlows.

"We are so blessed to have them," Dietch said.

 

KEN KAPLAN

 

WHERE DO YOU READ?

"I read at the Ballard School in Bradenton

HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU READ THIS YEAR?

Four.

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROGRAM IS IMPORTANT?

Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club volunteer Ken Kaplan is surrounded by children who just enjoyed one of his reading sessions.
Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club volunteer Ken Kaplan is surrounded by children who just enjoyed one of his reading sessions.

"The program provides new books for each student and gives them new vocabulary. It also gives them a love for reading while improving their reading skills. The books read have been chosen for their content and interest. Many sessions bring about discussions that help the children express their understanding of the story. Reading also brings about positive relationships with the students and the community of volunteers.

DO YOU THINK BOOKS ARE STILL POPULAR WITH SO MANY PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET THESE DAYS?

Books are very popular either hard cover, soft cover, or in tablet form.  Reading is a life-long skill that enables readers to explore new places, new ideas, and new experiences.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?

"My favorite book to tead to the class is "A Home Run for Bunny."

WERE YOU NERVOUS READING TO THE CHILDREN?

"I was an educator all of my life. I always got nervous while reading out loud. I feel excited about the students and their reactions to my reading. I explain my nervousness to the students and they respond about their nervousness, too. It makes it easier for them and for me."

DID ANYTHING SURPRISE YOU WHEN YOU READ TO THE STUDENTS?

"Nothing surprised me when I read, but I love the looks on their faces when I give them their take-home books. I have read and the students had a fire drill. One time when I was ready to read, the class was called to the library to have their pictures taken. Nothing surprises me during a typical school day."

DO YOU READ TO YOUR KIDS, OR DID YOU?

"I read to my children as my parents read to me. I now read to my grandchildren."

HOW DID YOU BENEFIT FROM THIS VOLUNTEER WORK?

"I get a wonderful feeling from reading to these boys and girls. They write me 'Thank you' notes each time, and it means the world to me. I feel so good after my read, that I can not wait to tell others about my reading time. It makes for a great beginning for my week. I look forward to my next reading time. I wish we could do more for these boys and girls."

 

DONNA LOVE

WHERE DO YOU READ?

"I have been going to Daughtrey on either the third or fourth Thursday of each month."

HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU READ THIS YEAR?

Around five or six

Donna Love
Donna Love

WHY DO YOU THINK THIS PROGRAM IS IMPORTANT?

"Most of these students do not have books at home. This programs insures that theses students receive eight or nine books in a school year that belong to them. I can tell by the looks on their faces when they receive their books that they are very proud to own a book."

DO YOU THINK BOOKS ARE STILL POPULAR WITH SO MANY PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET THESE DAYS?

"I really don't know. I do feel that a "reader" will find a way to read whether it is an actual book or something on the internet. We give books to these children to encourage them to become readers and to want to read to learn and for pleasure."

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?

"As a child I loved The Borrowers series. Of the books I have read to the children this year, I enjoyed The Indian and the Paintbrush by Tomie DePaola. He was a favorite author of mine when my kids where young."

WERE YOU NERVOUS READING TO THE CHILDREN?

"More excited than nervous. I used to be a teacher, so I feel comfortable in the classroom."

DID ANYTHING SURPRISE YOU WHEN YOU READ TO THE STUDENTS?

"I have been working with preschool students most recently before I started reading with Books For Kids, so the most surprising aspect was the fact that these third graders all sat still and listened to the entire book. As soon as I sat down to read, it was all eyes on me. "

DO YOU READ TO YOUR KIDS, OR DID YOU?

"Absolutely! Many books, every day. We were still having family read-alouds when my children were in middle school. We are a reading family, for sure."

HOW DID YOU BENEFIT FROM THIS VOLUNTEER WORK?

"I greatly enjoy reading to and working with the students, however, this is just a by product of why I joined this program. It is most important to me to know that I am putting books into the hands of children."

 

JOE WEBER

WHERE DO YOU READ?

"I read to second graders at Ballard Elementary in Bradenton, usually on the second Tuesday morning each month."

HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU READ THIS YEAR?

"Two. Unfortunately, regardless of subject, I fall asleep after about 20 minutes when reading a book."

Joe Weber
Joe Weber

WHY DO YOU THINK THIS PROGRAM IS IMPORTANT?

"Books For Kids is a medium to introduce and emphasize the fun and value of reading to kids who, for the most part, do not get that exposure and motivation at home. Few of the kids have books of their own at home, and receiving one from Books For Kids each month is very meaningful to them."

DO YOU THINK BOOKS ARE STILL POPULAR WITH SO MANY PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET THESE DAYS?

"I certainly hope so."

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?

"Leading at the Edge” Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackelton’sAntarctic Expedition."

WERE YOU NERVOUS READING TO THE CHILDREN?

"Not at all."

DID ANYTHING SURPRISE YOU WHEN YOU READ TO THE STUDENTS?

"Their behavior and manners are much better than I anticipated. They are eager to participate in the discussion of the book. The sessions are very interactive and filled with discussion as I read through the book."

DO YOU READ TO YOUR KIDS, OR DID YOU?

"Yes, they are now 45, 47 and 52 years old."

HOW DID YOU BENEFIT FROM THIS VOLUNTEER WORK?

"Doing this means several things to me. It is a physical manifestation that I am living Rotary’s motto 'Service Above Self.' I thoroughly enjoy the time with the kids. I feel like I am helping to make a difference in the life of these kids."

 

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