Reading Buddies program encourages students success in reading

Reading Buddies program encourages students success in reading
By: Beth Ireland Last Updated: October 1, 2019

Motivation sometimes comes from the most interesting of places. For the students who take part in the United Way of Porter County’s Reading Buddies program, new motivation to read and learn is found from stuffed animals. 

“Reading Buddies are stuffed animals that students read with,” said Rebecca Weber, Community Program Manager at the United Way of Porter County.  “We have seen that when teachers use them as a motivational tool or in conjunction with student classwork, there is an increase in oral fluency, motivation to read, and even better behavior in the classroom.” 

Over the years, the program has grown immensely and teachers have shared with each other the great of it. This year, it is projected United Way of Porter County will donate around 4,000 stuffed animals to 170 classrooms throughout the Region, which has doubled from six years ago when Weber joined the team. 

As you can imagine, with 4,000 students receiving these Reading Buddies, the support from the community is much needed. One of the largest sponsors of this program is Injury Attorney Kenneth J. Allen, who donated $22,500 to the Reading Buddies program. Mr. Allen has been donating to the program for five years now and has enjoyed watching the enormous growth it has undergone. 

“Our children are our future and, in my opinion, the most vital part of our community,” said Allen. “A solid education is critical to their success, individually, and to our success as a whole. Literacy, of course, is the keystone of a solid and successful education. So it makes sense to help teach our kids to read and write at the earliest possible age. And that’s what the Reading Buddies program is all about. I’m proud to be a part of the Reading Buddies program and look forward to continuing as its sponsor in the years to come.”

The Reading Buddy program is an excellent resource for teachers to encourage and motivate their students to read and increase engagement. 

“It’s a really great resource in the classroom, it’s something else to grab the kids’ attention and give them something to focus on when they’re doing their self-reading time,” said Cathy Doyle, 1st Grade Teacher at Central Elementary School.

Passing out the Reading Buddies to students is a treat, and each teacher has their own method. 

“It’s the most fun you’ll ever have,” said Weber. “You walk into a classroom with a big bag of stuffed animals, you’ve just become Santa Claus.” 

This year, Allen handed out reading buddies to students in two local schools. At Central Elementary School in Portage, the students eagerly awaited as Allen picked up a buddy, “listened” to it to see which student it was choosing, and then handed the buddy over with a few words of encouragement. 

“I tell the kids their “Buddy” is their responsibility, but the only way to keep their “Buddy” happy and healthy is to read 15 minutes or more each day – and, according to their teachers, they take that responsibility very seriously!” said Allen.

He also took some time to read to the classroom. He mentioned that he enjoys spending time reading to the students and seeing them immerse themselves in the story. It is a great reminder to him about the importance of the program.

“Helping the United Way actually deliver Reading Buddies to the classrooms is a joy,” said Allen. “After we distribute all the Reading Buddies, the teachers often give me the opportunity to read a short book to their students, which is my favorite part of the day.”

The emphasis on Reading Buddies is that they are a special “listener” for each student. United Way works extremely hard to ensure that each student receives their own buddy that it is completely unique from the others given out to the rest of the students. Each student feels special receiving their individual buddy. 

“We try to make sure that every child in the classroom gets their own individual stuffed animal, different from anyone else in the classroom,” said Weber. “It takes a lot of variety, so we really live off of our donated stuffed animals. It helps us make sure every animal in that classroom is unique.”

It is no easy task to gather and pass out 4,000 stuffed animals, and United Way needs all the help they can get. You can always donate money to United Way for them to purchase animals or even stuffed animals you have chosen. They accept stuffed animals that are either brand new or “gently loved”. You can also donate your time to help them deliver the buddies!

You can find more information about the Reading Buddy program and how you can be a special part of this excellent program on their website: www.unitedwaypc.org/reading-buddies.