Diamond smiles at the completion of yet another book with her Reading Buddy Darryl Byrd. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Diamond smiles at the completion of yet another book with her Reading Buddy Darryl Byrd. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

I am a 77-year-old, life-long resident of San Antonio. I attended Cotton Elementary, Twain Middle School and Thomas Jefferson High School. I have been a practicing pharmacist here since 1960, serving part-time these days at Broadway Pharmacy.

This is my fourth year as a “Reading Buddy,” working with San Antonio Youth Literacy. Its staff and the schools it serves identify second-graders who are below grade level in their reading ability. Each Reading Buddy, after a background check, reads with two students once a week – a half hour each –during the school year.

The best part of the program is the preparation the Reading Buddies receive before their first meeting with their students; the brief orientation sessions give tutors a crash course in how to properly teach and encourage students and we’re given a tool kit of helpful learning games and strategies.

Each student’s level of reading is identified before the sessions begin and appropriate books are available to ensure a great beginning. The rest of the year is spent helping these children read at a higher level, but Reading Buddies can also help them realize their value as a person. One can only imagine their self-concept when they fear being called upon to read or answer questions in class. I can only speak for myself, but I have proved that I’m not too old to become friends with an 8-year-old and watch them create new visions of themselves.

Numerous studies identify the need for reading proficiency in the third grade. “You learn to read” through the third grade, after that children should be “reading to learn.” Other studies have shown that those who don’t “learn to read” are more likely to occupy prison cells – and thus prisons are built to house these future problems. I have written a letter to San Antonio Police Department heads and Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, that essentially states: “You can read with them at age 8 or you can ‘book ‘em’ at age 18.”

I believe we too easily “understand the need” for better educated citizens. My hope is that some day, all City and County employees would participate in SAYL’s Reading Buddy program or something similar. That would be a great demonstration that we, as a society, not only understand the problem, but are willing to work toward its solution. Major employers now have book drives, which is certainly not a bad thing, but think what each of their employee’s involvement in two students for a total of one hour per week could make in the student’s ability to read those same donated books.

I’ve learned through my experience that many parents may also have reading disabilities and/or lack of a basic education. Is it too much to consider programs for these families as well? In the past, I have attempted to assist refugees from other countries as they attempt to learn English. What if we offered programs similar to this to parents struggling with reading?

If we don’t do it, who will?

*Top image: Diamond, a second-grader at Herff Elementary, smiles at the completion of yet another book with her reading buddy Darryl Byrd. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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Craig Bell

Craig Bell is a native San Antonian and pharmacist who has received state and national honors as the "Pharmacist of the Year" for service to the profession and the community. He enjoys being with friends...