By Kelly Williams
Gwinnett County Public Library (GCPL) recently began its Shared Paired Reading program, which supports early and continued literacy for children. Laura Dobbins of the Norcross branch modeled this much-needed program after the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library System’s Active Reading Mentor program and uses trained staff and volunteers to offer virtual reading practice for children between the ages of 5 and 11. According to Laura:
When the pandemic hit, we regrouped and realized that children still desperately needed individualized reading opportunities to strengthen their skills, albeit in a virtual setting… We provide the extra support and opportunity for all children to build literacy and language skills outside of the classroom and for them to be able to choose from a wide variety of materials to enable them to choose reading materials that support their interests and passions.
GCPL used the proceeds from a grant from the Nora Roberts Foundation to purchase materials to support the program. Laura suggests purchasing a document reader such as OkiCam to be able to share physical books from the collection with the children, or ebooks from Overdrive or eRead Kids can be used. The volunteers are required to commit to an hour and a half of training and at least an hour per week working with the children. During the 30-minute sessions, children receive one-on-one attention from the volunteers. Afterward, evaluations are filled out to keep track of each child’s progress; these forms are then kept and updated during the next session with that child.
Fenise Boss, the volunteer coordinator for the Norcross Branch, said that she has seen marked improvement in the children who benefit from the program. “I have seen those kids improve their reading skills and gain confidence with reading aloud. I’ve also seen customers more frequently visit and make use of the library both for circulating books and attending library programs.” Although the coordination of the events takes time, which includes volunteer scheduling, filing of the progress forms weekly, training volunteers and staff, and even filling in when needed, she said that seeing the children improve and become better readers is very fulfilling and allows for opportunities to get to know the community.
Laura Dobbins said, “Ultimately, our goal was to provide opportunities for children to have ongoing one-on-one reading sessions to develop reading skills which would result in the ability and the desire to read for fun and information.” Using the resources of the library system and the efforts of their volunteers and team, the Norcross Branch will continue to work to improve early and continued literacy skills in the children of Gwinnett.