Feb. 15, 2018
When the children walk in, there’s no shyness. They grab a book or other materials, such as flash cards, greet the Wilfrid Laurier University students enthusiastically and settle in with them to work on their French.
The children and Laurier student volunteers are participating in the French Reading Circles program run weekly on the Waterloo campus by student group Laurier Students for Learning. The group also puts on a Saturday Morning Reading Circles program in English.
Both programs are open to any elementary school student who wants to work on their reading and/or vocabulary.
“We’re trying to inspire a love of literacy and learning,” says club president Andrea D’Alessandro, a second-year student in psychology and sociology. “Because it’s one-on-one with individual volunteers, we can work with anybody at any level.”
“The volunteers really get to know the kids,” says second-year sociology student Kirsten Hyder, leader of the French reading circles. “The kids usually choose the same volunteer every week to read with so they can help them in the areas they need most help with.”
“We’re trying to inspire a love of literacy and learning.”
For the English circles, program leaders keep track of the words children have trouble with as well as the books they have read. This helps them recognize the progress they have made. Particularly in the French circles, there is a strong focus on vocabulary and comprehension as well as reading.
“I know some of the parents don’t speak French but their children are in French immersion, so they want a place they can go where their children can have extended one-on-one time with someone who does know French,” says D’Alessandro.
This is the case for Wendy Zhang, whose daughter goes to the French circles almost every week.
“I think this is a fun way to help her to understand French,” says Zhang. “She loves it. She loves the games and she loves the books. She wants to come over here every Wednesday.”
Sandra Ribes’s six-year-old son, who is also in French immersion, goes to both the English and French circles in part because the family tries to stick to speaking and reading in Spanish at home.
“It’s reinforcing what he’s learning at school,” says Ribes. “His teacher was really surprised at how well his French reading is coming along. On Saturdays it’s similar. I find he’s more confident to try bigger words that he usually wouldn’t be familiar with. He’s getting a lot out of it so we try to come here no matter what, even if there’s a snowstorm. He really likes it.”
After about 45 minutes of reading with a volunteer, both the English and French programs bring in educational games and activities, such as crafts and songs.
“It feels good when a child comes in and looks for you – it’s really heartwarming to know you’re making a difference in someone’s life. That’s one reason why the volunteers, once they start, keep coming back.”
Seven-year-old Alexandra Zhang likes both the reading and the activities. “It’s fun because I get to learn new stuff,” she says.
“When we first came, I couldn’t believe this program was available and that it’s free,” says Ribes. “It’s basically tutoring with more social and interactive aspects. The kids come, they learn English or French, they do a craft and everyone’s happy.”
Some of the student volunteers get involved to build their experience because they’d like to become teachers. That’s the case for Hyder and Olivia Hahn, the club’s vice-president. Other volunteers, such as D’Alessandro, just enjoy working with kids.
“It’s fun,” says D’Alessandro. “It feels good when a child comes in and looks for you – it’s really heartwarming to know you’re making a difference in someone’s life. That’s one reason why the volunteers, once they start, keep coming back.”
A similar club at Laurier’s Brantford campus, Laurier Students for Literacy, offers a free homework help drop-in program at the Brantford Public Library. Both the Waterloo and Brantford clubs are open to both new volunteers and new child participants.
The exact Waterloo campus locations for the French circles and English Saturday morning reading circles can change. For up-to-date information, see Laurier Students for Learning on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Note that there are no programs on Saturday, Feb, 17, Wednesday, Feb. 21, or Saturday, Feb. 24, during Laurier’s Reading Week.
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