Esplanade’s Barbara Liodice watched as Kambrie Rowell tried to draw a bear.
While drawing, Rowell, a kindergartner at Ballard Elementary School, talked about her day. They finished reading “Bear’s Loose Tooth” on Nov. 8 and then started working on literacy activities.
“You are the best,” Liodice said to Rowell.
“No, you are the best in the whole, entire world,” the little girl replied.
Liodice and Rowell have been working together once per week since mid-October as part of the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch’s new Books for Kids Kindergarten program.
More than 60 volunteers go to Ballard, Oneco and Daughtrey elementary schools once per week to work one-on-one with a class of kindergartners. They read a book the students take home. After reading together, the volunteers will ask students questions about the book to help with comprehension, followed by various literacy activities.
During the Nov. 8 session, kindergarten student Kemora Wallace predicted what would happen next in the book as her volunteer Glenda Myers of Waterlefe read to her.
The Books for Kids Kindergarten Program was started this year as a pilot program after seeing the success of the Books for Kids program with students in first through third grades.
Joanne Vernon, a co-coordinator for the Books for Kids Kindergarten Program, said early intervention is key when it comes to reading skills.
“We want to build lifelong readers,” she said.
Sheila Halpin, the leader of the campaign for grade level reading and a volunteer coordinator for the School District of Manatee County, said the Books for Kids Kindergarten Program is a “beautiful collaboration that’s extremely strategic.”
She said the School District of Manatee County’s curriculum department chose the books used for the program, and each volunteer had to take literacy training to prepare them to work with the children. The books correlate back to what students are learning in the classroom.
“It’s an amazing program, and we’re seeing that it’s making a difference both academically, socially and emotionally.”
Rudy Keezer, the principal of Ballard Elementary School, said the program will help close learning gaps.
For example, he said some students walk in the first day of kindergarten with letter recognition and they are able to spell their own names, while others are just starting to learn those skills.
Working one-on-one with the kindergartners gives volunteers an opportunity to develop relationships and serve as mentors.
Liodice decided to volunteer to give back to the community and work with children.
Liodice said she has loved working with Rowell, who she says has been engaged in the activities and reading.
“She just dives in,” Liodice said. “She just loved books and loved to chat with me. We chat about a lot of things besides the book. She’s got a great imagination and is really smart.”
Being together each week allows the volunteers to see the progress the kindergartners are making throughout the 20 weeks they spend together.
Since Liodice started working with Rowell, she’s noticed she has improved on letter recognition.
"You can see the pride she has in herself,” Liodice said.
When students or volunteers are absent, they are paired with someone else so they don’t miss out.
Pardo’s assigned student was absent Nov. 8, so she worked with kindergartner Damon Presthus instead.
Together, she helped him learn to spell “tooth.”
“(The students) are so happy when you are reading with them,” Pardo said. “They do come alive with the books. The teachers here must be great because the kids are all very enthusiastic.”
Keezer said the program brings a lot of energy to the cafeteria as the volunteers work with the students.
“That one-on-one attention is great,” he said. “It’s bringing smiles to the kids’ faces. Then the people that are volunteering, you’re seeing that same glow in their face. Students are showing off the books later in the day, which is really cool.”
Vernon and Halpin said they hope more people will volunteer for the program so they can add more schools.
“If we had another 20 volunteers, we could probably pick up another school in January,” Vernon said. “We have to have people who are committed to come in each week.”