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Jaguars staffers reach out to area youth

Jaguars staff volunteers have become very important people in the lives of young students at Hyde Park Elementary School. The Jaguars Reading Program puts staff members one-on-one with second graders, giving them time and attention, and reinforcing the importance of becoming a good reader. The program, which is completing its fourth year, involves about 25 Jaguars staff members. Volunteers take their own lunch hour and time provided by the Jaguars to work directly with the children in their own school setting. Each staff member works with three children each week. While the focus is being a good listener as the child reads to the volunteer, the staff members quickly learn that perhaps that most important thing is making the child feel special and giving that individual attention. Bonds quickly develop and no one is surprised that some of the "reading time" gets used catching up on the child's personal experiences during the week that has gone by. The theme of the program is best expressed by Mrs. Delores Weaver who says "time spent reading with a child is time well spent" and time and personal attention is what the volunteers give each child every week.

Teachers have been enthusiastic supporters of the staff volunteers. They find the children look forward to the visit and are more excited and attentive on the day that their Jaguars partner is coming. They report that the children feel more pride in their work and generally better about themselves due to this special attention. The program stresses continuity and staff members make sure that they go each week, because they know that their new friends will be anxiously awaiting them. Hyde Park Principal Nancy Miller has thanked the volunteers for their commitment and stressed how important they each have become to the children they worked with. She has observed markedly increased reading and comprehension skills.

At the end of the term, the staff members sponsor a party for all the children complete with food and gift bags. But the volunteers find that they are getting more out of the program than they give. They cite the opportunity to bond with a young child and to become an important positive influence in their education as extremely rewarding.

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