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Our Community Focus

Ready Set Read!

Sep 09, 2014 09:28PM ● By Jennifer Neys

Cindy Rubin intends to build on the early success of the Reading Readiness program that launched in many Pleasant Hill elementary schools last fall. The program is part of the Pleasant Hill Education Initiative (PHEI) created in February 2013 by former mayor Michael Harris and is designed to enhance the quality of education for Pleasant Hill students. Reading Readiness targets students in grades K-2. Volunteers are matched with young readers and work one-on-one under a teacher’s guidance to improve reading skills.

 Rubin served as volunteer coordinator and collected the names of interested citizens who signed up through several outlets, including the Senior Center, the City of Pleasant Hill’s webpage, and Community Service Day last year. After teachers evaluated and targeted students who needed additional help with their reading skills, volunteer placements were made.

Although the program was initiated last October, its novelty made some teachers tentative about jumping in. Rubin said, “We had a lot of enthusiasm about the program, but maybe not as many takers. It was new so people didn’t know what it was about. Where we saw the most success was at Gregory Gardens.” She credits much of the success of the program at Gregory, with its large population of English language learners, to the efforts of Diana Bartlett, who served as a volunteer liaison between Rubin and the school and obtained the type of support teachers wanted. Bartlett said, “From my perspective, the volunteer effort was very well run and well received at Gregory Gardens. I think having someone in the liaison role to assist with the details made it easier for the teachers, and I found the program to be a wonderful demonstration of community involvement and support -- a true success.”  

 With a daughter in high school and son in college, volunteer Marianne Naccara was delighted to be at Gregory Gardens and in a classroom full of 6 and 7-year-olds.  She said, “I just loved working with the little ones, with their front teeth missing. You could see their progress as the year went on.” Her weekly one-hour visits in teacher Jill Stevens-Nappi’s first grade classroom included working one-on-one with 2-5 students, listening to them read books at their reading levels and providing encouragement. “I think the program was really valuable, as the school does not have many parent volunteers to help. I plan to go back to the same classroom this year and do my Wednesday mornings!” she added.

Stevens-Nappi valued the additional help as well: “The children really enjoyed our ‘reading helpers,’ and many asked to read with them. I appreciated how the volunteers didn't just listen to the children read, but they also discussed what was happening in the story and asked the children questions to build comprehension skills.  I most definitely would like to have the reading volunteers in my room again this year.  It was helpful to me, and the children benefited from the individual attention, reading support and lively book discussions.  It is a wonderful program!”

Sonia Vardas’ role in the program began as a committee member with the PHEI representing the Senior Center.  Her involvement in Reading Readiness began by placing an article in the senior newsletter explaining the needs of the program and asking for volunteers to read to the students at the elementary schools. Interest was high, applications were collected, and Cindy Rubin placed them in designated schools. She also volunteered in the reading program at Strandwood.  “It’s really been great for the seniors to be working with that age group, building up their confidence.  A lot of the kids that age don’t have grandparents close by, so I think that they enjoyed reading with the seniors. It’s such a great experience; we try to make reading fun for them and these kids say the cutest things!”

The Reading Readiness program is looking for volunteers! No previous experience is necessary to volunteer, just a commitment of one hour a week to make a difference.  Volunteers need to be fingerprinted and TB tested. Please go to, click on “Community” at the top, then “PH Education Initiative” to learn more. You can also contact Cindy Rubin, volunteer coordinator, at [email protected]