According to the National Center of Education Statistics, only 53 percent of children are read to daily by a family member.
At Fredericksburg Primary School, Our Time To Enjoy Reading or OTTER, works to fix this problem in the school district.
Four days a week, for 20-minute sessions, 58 students get read to by community volunteers.
Growing up, I was always surrounded by kids, whether that was at day care, the elementary school where my father was the principal, or volunteering in the community.
During my high school years, I worked through my school district to tutor kids in reading.
So when I found out about OTTER, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to spend time with kids.
The hour-long sessions required following a strict curriculum, as many of the students were reading far below grade level.
I also had the chance to work with a Spanish speaking student, which allowed me to fine-tune my Spanish.
When I moved to Fredericksburg, I wasn’t sure if there was an opportunity like that until a co-worker mentioned the OTTER program.
Students are selected by their classroom teachers if the student is behind in reading, are not being read to at home or have issues focusing in class.
“Our overall goal is to involve kindergarten students more in reading, and not specifically every student but select students,” said OTTER teacher Jamie Gonzalez.
OTTER has been a program in FISD for many years but Gonzales took the reigns two years ago and has since seen the program grow.
“I see incredible growth in these kids whether that be their reading level or an improvement in their behavior,” Gonzales said. “I see kids from the previous year and they still ask when they get to come back to OTTER.”
Every Thursday for the past three semesters, I have had the pleasure of reading to two kindergarten students for 20 minutes.
The first few months, they barely said anything, giving simple head nods to any questions asked. Now, I am lucky if I can make it a few pages without them asking questions or trying to turn the page.
Evie, one of the students, finally broke out of her shell while reading “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
The girl hardly spoke, but I couldn’t get her to stop talking about the anticipation of what she might find in her Christmas stocking.
My first go-around, I read to a student who was a Spanish speaker, allowing me to once again practice my language skills. At times, I tried to encourage her to pick out new, simple English books, hoping to improve her skills.
It has been one of my favorite parts of my week as I get to read some of the same books I read when I was their age as well as some new picture books.
Just the other day, I read one of the “Arthur” books that features a family of aardvarks and his animal friends, a series I was obsessed with as a child.
How to volunteer
OTTER requires nothing but the ability to read to children, making it an opportunity for anyone.
“Many of our volunteers are older and retired and they are just looking for something to do and this doesn’t require certain skills,” Gonzales said.
It can even be for young people, like myself, who love kids and want to spend time enjoying reading.
To volunteer or learn more about OTTER, email Gonzales at firstname.lastname@example.org.