An Interview with Ruth Major, Executive Director of Read-Aloud
Q: What is Read-Aloud Volunteer Program about and what do you all do?
RM: Read-Aloud is a relationship-based volunteer program that places adults into Title 1, Elementary schools, K-2, in Richmond and San Pablo. Adults work with the same child for 24 weeks of the year, reading-aloud to them for 30 minutes each week. Every other week the child choses a new book to take home to build a personal library. The teachers select the children who will participate in the program for multiple reasons. We serve around 300 children each year, depending on the number of readers and the hours they volunteer each week. We have 5 coordinators assisting the volunteers and working with teachers and children at the schools. There is also office support.
Q: What do you love most about Read-Aloud and the work you all do?
RM: Read-Aloud is about social justice and equity for children and families. Giving children the opportunity to have their own books, one-on-one adult and child time, space for children to develop at their own pace and the pure joy of reading are what makes the program alive. Children go from beginning readers to seeing themselves as learning to read with books of their own.
The friendships the children make with their readers support their growing sense of self. They literally blossom. We don’t test or stress. This is about special time and love of books and storytelling. It is about becoming life-long learners. I love to see the relationships building between the reader and child over the program year. Learning happens in the context of relationships.
Q: How has Read-Aloud made a difference and what impact do you still wish to see Read-Aloud make?
RM: Read-Aloud isn’t about teaching children to read, but sharing the joy of reading and supporting children’s interests. Through modeling, readers help children build literacy skills and confidence. They are capable and competent and our readers have the time to be active listeners and supporters of the students. Children are hearing rich, contextual language and sharing stories with their readers. This makes a huge difference to how they feel about themselves and their capabilities. Many of our young children are dealing with multiple stressors and their reading sessions are special times away from them.
I would like to see Read-Aloud expanded and businesses be more involved in volunteering and financially supporting this program in the schools, particularly in West Contra Costa County. There is a great need and it works!
Q: What is so special about Read-Aloud and how can people make a difference?
RM: The founder of the program said: “This program is elegantly simple but a potent tool for literacy.”
Our volunteers are at the heart of the program and they are committed to the children and schools. Many have been with Read-Aloud for over 15 years. I find this remarkable. I think of many of the qualities the children gain from the program as invisible skills. How do you measure happiness and joy on an evaluation form? Teacher feedback is generally similar: the child who participated is socially and emotionally more grounded, has more focus, enjoys reading and coming to school. Read-Aloud is also about engaging the community to be supporters of families and their schools. It really is a special program.