Literacy Connections’ Book Buddies program expands to Newburgh Enlarged City School District thanks to gift from Vanacore, DeBenedictus, DiGovanni & Weddell LLP

Literacy Connections of the Hudson Valley’s highly successful Book Buddies program was able to expand its reach this spring to Orange County’s Newburgh Enlarged City School District thanks to a generous gift from Vanacore, DeBenedictus, DiGovanni & Weddell LLP (VDDW), through the United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region.
“Providing the funding to bring Book Buddies to Newburgh was an easy decision," said Tom Weddell, managing partner of Vanacore, DeBenedictus, DiGovanni & Weddell. "Studies have shown that children who are not reading at grade level by third grade are in grave danger of not graduating from high school — and the sheer number of students in our region who are not achieving this milestone is staggering. It is worth every penny knowing we can provide the opportunity through Book Buddies to help them reach that milestone simply by providing them with a reading mentor."
Last fall, Claudine Malcolm, a reading teacher at Newburgh’s Gidney Avenue Magnet School Tech (GAMS Tech), heard about the success of the Book Buddies program in Dutchess County during a United Way workplace campaign visit. Seeing the outstanding reports from teachers in Dutchess County schools of an 85% student improvement rate for reading skills and reading confidence, the GAMS Tech teacher and principal said that they’d like to bring Book Buddies to GAMS Tech.
“We currently have nine volunteers working with 12 students and there will be an additional volunteer/student match to start in April. Our volunteers include teachers, working parents, retirees, and young people in the community, including one who is bilingual and works with the children in Spanish,” said Judy Connolly, the Book Buddies Coordinator for Literacy Connections. “The volunteers come from West Point, New Windsor, Fort Montgomery, Walden, Newburgh, and Wappingers Falls. Dottie Patiot has recently joined the Book Buddies team as the Orange County coordinator. She has 34 years experience in education and is an adjunct professor at SUNY New Paltz, teaching literacy classes to aspiring teachers.”
Book Buddies is a program of Literacy Connections of the Hudson Valley that provides adult volunteers an opportunity during the equivalent of “one lunch hour” per week to read one-on-one with elementary school children in first, second, and third grades. In addition to books, flash cards, and reading games, the volunteers work with differentiated instruction material from the Reading A-Z program to help address the student’s individual needs. The students, who are selected by their teacher to participate in the program, are those who are reading below their grade level, need extra practice reading, or who lack confidence in their reading ability. The third grade is the critical year for children to read at grade level, as this is the time when they should transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”; Book Buddies helps to smooth this transition for participating students.
“We are excited about the wonderful opportunity to expand Book Buddies to Orange County and pilot the program in a new school district, thanks to this generous gift,” said United Way’s Vice President of Community Impact Kimberly Kochem. “We hope to see the program grow next year as it is so important for the students. We were able to implement it immediately, illustrating the power of collaborative efforts on the part of the donor, Literacy Connections, the teacher and principal at GAMS Tech, and United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region.”
Book Buddies is one of the United Way’s programs that fall under the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which states that “an alarming number of children—about 67% nationwide and more than 80% of those from low-income families—are not proficient readers by the end of third grade. This has significant and long-term consequences not only for the children, but for their communities, and for our national as a whole.”
According to Literacy Connections and the Mid-Hudson Valley Community Profile, in our region fewer children today are reading at Level 3 or above in fourth grade than they were 10 years ago. This means on average, more than 40% of our children are testing under grade level.
In addition to the program at GAMS Tech, Book Buddies, now in its fourth year, is in six schools in Dutchess County in the Arlington, Beacon, Poughkeepsie, and Wappingers school districts. Measuring the program’s success, in 2013-14, 85% of the children showed improved reading skills based on their Fall to Spring test scores or their increased reading level as assessed by a reading teacher. In addition, 100% of teachers and principals have asked to continue to have Book Buddies volunteers for their students.
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Photo: Book Buddies students at GAMS Tech with (l to r): Claudine Malcolm, GAMS Tech reading teacher; Anne Philip, Book Buddies volunteer; Jane LaGuardia, Book Buddies volunteer