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Reading Buddies

Students, seniors spend time together with books

By Norma Jean Fochs

Just before the final bell rang and the school year came to an end, Iola-Scandinavia second graders started something new.

They were the first class to participate in a new intergenerational program implemented at Iola Living Assistance. The students became reading buddies for residents of the facility. During four 25-minute sessions throughout May, residents were treated to personal story sessions with their team of two reading buddies.

Each student had the opportunity to read. All three classes of second graders participated with their teachers, Bill Myers, Mark Wester and Amy Wiersma.

Activities Director Maureen Speck said one of her personal goals upon coming to the facility was to increase community interaction and intergenerational participation.

“We had the student groups come in for Halloween trick-or-treating and Christmas programs, which were wonderful,” Speck said, “but this is different in that the interaction is more personalized. It’s a perfect match. Kids want to read but sometimes adults have difficulty finding time in their busy schedules to be the audience as much as everyone would like. Our residents love to listen.”

With that thought in mind, Speck worked with second grade teacher Bill Myers to develop the plan and implement the reading buddies program. It was such a hit that it will be repeated next school year, but for a longer period.

“We had such a positive response and we’re excited to expand the program next year,” Speck said. “Residents and their families told us how excited they were to be involved with and known to a whole new group in the community. Both the students and the residents formed relationships with someone new to them and it was magical.”

“Teachers told us they couldn’t believe how the kids responded. They loved the program and had no hesitation,” Speck added. “Many were sad when it was their final turn to read.”

Beyond the value of the new experience, practice reading and making new friends, the students also apparently found value in the cookies that were shared in a little reception at the end of the reading session. According to Speck, the second graders could have a new class motto: “Will read for cookies.”

“We are so grateful to have the cooperation and participation with the community and, in this case particularly, the local elementary school staff and students,” Speck said. “Interaction is so important in letting our residents know they still have an important role as members of this community.”

Iola Living Assistance Skilled Nursing Facility is a 50-bed, community-owned complex dedicated to providing rehabilitation, comfort and end-of-life care to its residents.

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