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Volunteers empower RPS 205 students through reading

David Sidney (left) helps an RPS 205 student as part of the I READ program.

David Sidney (left) helps an RPS 205 student as part of the I READ program.

Connie Spoden and her I READ student, Jamarian Phinnessee, have a banter that makes their tutoring session seem like a visit from a fun aunt.

But that doesn’t mean it’s just fun. Disguising the work of skill-building speaks to a talent Spoden developed over 32 years as a teacher in the Rockford Public Schools. Now retired, Spoden volunteers for I READ, a partnership between the United Way of Rock River Valley and the Literacy Council. Volunteers tutor as many as two students each week during the school day and are encouraged to remain with their students through the third grade

Nine schools in RPS 205 have I READ programs, including Washington Elementary School, where Jamarian is a first grader.

Spoden has been with the I READ program since it started. “My parents always instilled giving back to the community,” she said. “As a retired teacher, I READ seemed like a perfect match to my skills.  I love sharing literature with the children and exposing them to new words and experiences.

“It is always rewarding when you are greeted by a big smile and asked, “What book did you bring today?’”

The book Spoden brought one recent afternoon came with an apology. She told Jamarian the book, “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Turkey,” was more appropriate for Thanksgiving than a day in February. No matter. Jamarian dove in, sounding out the words and, with Spoden’s help, learning some words he didn’t know. A favorite was “quirky.” On another page, Spoden pointed to a horn of plenty, spilling colorful fruits and vegetables, and wondered if Jamarian recognized it. He did. “Now that’s good food!” he said.

Spoden pulled out another activity from her backpack—a wooden board with holes in different shapes. Then she pulled out a plastic bag, filled with wooden blocks of different shapes with words on them—literally, the building blocks of sentences Jamarian could write on the wooden board. That day, Jamarian was more interested in being silly and trying to get Spoden to do his work. She gently redirected him each time. Then time was up. Spoden walked Jamarian to his locker at the end of the day at Washington.

About a mile southwest—at Lathrop Elementary School—I READ volunteer David Sidney works with students as well. Sidney, a 2001 graduate of Auburn High School, is project director with Transform Rockford. “I enjoy the shift that happens with students when reading becomes fun and empowering for them,” he said.

As part of the RPS 205 Strategic Plan, the district has set a goal to get 10,000 volunteers like Sidney and Spoden into the schools. So far, more than 8,200 people in the community have accepted the challenge. I READ is just one of the programs.

For more information, and to learn about the rewards of volunteering, watch a RPS 205 video. Join us, and help us reach 10K for the kids.

Mary Kaull is strategic communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. Click here to subscribe to this blog. Also, please like RPS 205 on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

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