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Seniors, Third-Graders Read Together Through Goudy Elementary Buddy Program

By Josh McGhee | April 24, 2017 8:10am
 Vera Dowell, 78, sits with her reading buddies Henok, 9, and Emiliano, 9.
Vera Dowell, 78, sits with her reading buddies Henok, 9, and Emiliano, 9.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

UPTOWN — Each week seniors at the Admiral at the Lake can look forward to hearing some interesting stories at the Lighthouse Lounge.

And their reading buddies — third-graders from Goudy Elementary School, 5120 N. Winthrop Ave. — look forward to escaping on literary adventures with them, too.

"When they come in, the buddies are looking and the kids are looking" eagerly for their partners, said Kathy McCormack, who took over the Reading Buddies program in 1993.

When the third-graders leave they ask "'When do we come back?'" she said. "They always give them a hug when they leave. When time is up they’re like, 'No!'"

The program started over two decades ago, minus a brief hiatus a few years back when the Admiral at the Lake at 929 W. Foster Ave. was rehabbed, said McCormack, a third grade teacher at Goudy.

Children come every week, but the class is split in half, so each child sees their buddy every other week. Most seniors have either one or two buddies, she said.

Last Friday, about 25 third-graders met with seniors at the retirement community to read stories like "Captain Underpants" and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," McCormack said.

"They bring the books that they want. The kids choose," she said. "That’s what we wanted; a moment when they could read whatever they wanted to someone who would actively listen to them."

Nine-year-old Jordan said he chose to bring "Back-to-School Fright From the Black Lagoon" by Mike Thaler because it's "hilarious."

"I like to read the books to them because they think it's actually fun," Jordan said.

Natalia, another student, was running late and grabbed "The Railway Children," the first book she thought "would interest my buddy," she said.

"It feels really good because we get to spend a lot of time with them," said Natalia, adding during the week she doesn't have much time to read with family, but always reads on weekends.

Though Natalia and Jordan are only on their second week visiting their buddy Nan Ochs, they've already won her over.

"They're both good readers," Ochs said. "They're just so cool, and they really are good readers."

The program not only improves the kids' reading skills, but also their communication skills, McCormack said.

"There’s no computers. They’re not on their telephone. They have someone who’s actually listening to them for a good chunk of time," she said. "There’s no pressure. There’s no test at the end of the day.

"School nowadays seems to be so competitive. We’re always on. [This is] just a time for them to come and just relax; read what they want to read and talk about things they want to talk about. Seniors bring a little bit of their life into the kids, and the kids bring a little bit of their life into them. It just kind of brings their two worlds together."

For retired teacher Vera Dowell, who's been a reading buddy for two years, the opportunity to volunteer with the program actually helped sell her on the retirement community, she said.

"As soon as I moved in I started doing it. That was one of the reasons I was excited about moving here, was this program," said Dowell, 78. "Many of us don't get to see our grandchildren often, so I think that's why people enjoy it. [We like] having that interaction with young people."

The program brings together seniors and third-graders every Friday, teachers said. [DNAinfo/ Josh McGhee]