My 'Book Buddy'

During the summer of 2005, when I was superintendent of Virginia’s Goochland County Public Schools, an elementary school counselor asked if I would be a “Book Buddy” for a student.

I was interested, but hesitant. My schedule could be pretty hectic and unpredictable, and I wanted to be dependable. I was pushed over the edge, however, when the counselor said that she just knew I would help and that she had already picked out a student for me. What could I say?

We agreed that I would read on Monday mornings with a kindergarten student who had been retained. Josh (not his real name) would get off the bus at 8 a.m., and I would walk with him to his classroom to stow his backpack. Then we’d proceed to the cafeteria where Josh would get his breakfast and I would read to him.

It was awkward at first. I got the impression that Josh didn’t know what to make of this whole thing. (“Who is this guy in the suit and why is he eating breakfast with me?”) He wasn’t the only one. While we walked to the cafeteria, I asked him about his weekend and he’d sort of answer, although he would listen intently while I read to him as he ate.

Suddenly, during the third or fourth week, we started to click. I’d like to think it’s because we got used to each other. It’s probably because I got more comfortable with my new role.

About this point, I asked Josh’s teacher how I could best help him improve. His teacher, a wise and experienced early childhood educator, suggested that I have Josh read the books he had read in class during the previous week and the ones he would read during the coming week. The teacher thought this would build Josh’s confidence. She also suggested that I ask Josh simple comprehension questions and that I get him to talk about what he was reading.

My classroom background is all at the secondary level, so I was in relatively uncharted territory. But Josh and I pressed on.

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