Each week more than 25 Ridgefield reading volunteers travel to one of 11 elementary schools in Danbury to assist students with their reading skills. They work with two children individually for half an hour each.
The Greater Danbury Jewish Federation started Reading Partners 12 years ago as an offshoot of President Clinton’s America Reads program.
Under the direction of Joan Weisman of Newtown, the effort began with a handful of volunteers at three schools. Ms. Weisman takes pride in the fact that the program is now in 11 Danbury elementary schools with more than 100 volunteers.
“People in our Reading Partners program come and stay for years,” Ms. Weisman said. “They love their schools, their students and the staff and never want to change schools. They feel that what they are doing benefits not only the students, but themselves, the school and the community.”
“Our volunteers come from all over, but Ridgefield has been one of our strongest allies and has provided outstanding leadership,” she said. “More than a quarter of our volunteers come from Ridgefield, over half of the liaisons for our individual schools are from Ridgefield, and St. Stephen’s Church in Ridgefield has been wonderful about donating money and writing grants for us.”
One of the first local volunteers was Dr. Joseph Ellis, past principal of Ridgefield High School.
“When I retired I wanted to work with students, but a different type of student,” Dr. Ellis said. “Because of my request I was sent to Morris Avenue School, where I worked in a low-income, multi-ethnic environment. Here I found my work to be very rewarding and beneficial.
“I have now been with the program for 10 years and have no plans not to continue.”
Many of the Ridgefield volunteers have been certified teachers and administrators who bring a wealth of experience to their job.
Alberta Pappolla, a reading teacher with 35 years of classroom experience, said, “I love being back in the classroom and engaging students in a meaningful way. I also get to do enrichment work with the more able students in my school, the Magnet School.”
Two volunteers at Great Plain School, Georgia Carrington and Becky Strominger, have enjoyed their work in the classroom so much that they now also volunteer in a Great Plain after-school program as well.
“It is so wonderful to see how much progress the children make over the year,” Ms. Carrington said.
Equally enthusiastic about the program are the Danbury teachers. Priscilla Eller, reading teacher at Hayestown, says, “The reading partners provide a listening ear, extra support and a challenge for each child. The students benefit and progress in their reading skills due to the precious gift of time from these compassionate and generous adults.”
Ms. Eller’s co-worker Ellie Kennen added, “The only change I would like to see in the program is more volunteers.”
For more information, contact the Jewish Federation of Greater Danbury at 203-748-5099 or email@example.com.