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Reading Buddies provide learning, friendship opportunities for first graders

First grade is a critical time for children’s development of reading skills.

“Expectations are that first graders will learn how to read,” Nevis teacher Wendy McGillivray said of skills development. “Support is key at this level.”

Kinship Reading Buddies are the knights in shining armor, arriving each week at Park Rapids and Nevis elementary schools to spend one-on-one time with the budding “bookies.”

Since 2007, more than 190 first graders in the two schools have benefitted from the program.

If on a Reading Buddy day a child in the program is absent, their peers’ arms are waving in the air. “I’ll do it!” they cry.

“The whole group wants to go,” McGillivray said of her young students eager to demonstrate and hone their skills at this age. “They are excited and enthusiastic to learn.”

Reading Buddy volunteers model and encourage a love of reading by sharing time reading books, explains Kinship director Jennifer Therkilsen.

Reading Buddies meet weekly in Nevis in the early afternoon. Park Rapids readers and “readees” meet every other week over the lunch hour. Both schools’ programs are from October through April, with buddies matched with the same student throughout the year.

Friendships form as vocabularies broaden.

Teachers provide reading material for the students; Kinship offers tips for volunteers. Substitutes are available to fill in for occasional absences.

Volunteers, including substitutes, must complete an application and pass a background check. Forms are available at or by calling 732-0058.

“The Reading Buddy program has been an invaluable service to our first graders,” Nevis first grade teacher Amy Klimek said.

“Each week, my students look forward to the opportunity to strengthen and practice their reading skills with a caring adult,” she said. “This develops confidence and better fluency with the children, gives them an opportunity to have more modeling from an experienced reader and build new bonds that last a lifetime.”

It’s reciprocal.

“It’s very fulfilling. It’s great to see students grow in confidence as they read better,” a volunteer said.

“A rewarding experience,” another related.

“It enriched my life – and I think my buddy’s too.”