A Good Book

Volunteer program shares a love of reading

COALTON — Second-graders at Coalton Elementary School were laughing and squealing with delight as a Randolph County Read Aloud volunteer shared the story “Miss Martin is a Martian” by author Colleen Murray Fisher.

The students particularly enjoyed the engaging children’s tale because their teacher is Lisa Martin, who jokingly went along with the story line of the book. The child in the story suspects his teacher is an alien because she seems to have superpowers, such as the ability to know what he’s thinking.

This is just one of the many stories shared each week by Jeff Ricottilli, a parent who’s volunteered about three years for the Read Aloud program. Ricottilli’s daughter, Chloe, is in the second grade this year at Coalton Elementary, and he said it’s been especially fun to read to her and her friends.

“They’re all good groups of kids,” he said of the classes he visits, explaining he enjoys picking stories that he knows the students will love to hear. “They like the silly voices, the funny books.”

Ricottilli said his favorite part about reading to students is how excited they are to see him and hear new books. He said you can tell when the children really become involved with the story line and can’t wait to learn what happens next.

“That’s probably what I like best about it — the look on their faces, when you can see they’re really getting into (the books),” he said. “It’s an awesome stress-reliever.”

Ricottilli said his mother was a longtime school teacher, and he remembers how much he loved it when she would read to him as a child. That’s part of what prompted him to volunteer for the program, which reaches several classrooms in Randolph County.

Coalton Elementary Principal Alyssa Tallman said five volunteers currently visit her school each week as part of Read Aloud, and it’s a great program.

“They usually come once a week; the kids really look forward to it,” Tallman said in an interview last week at the school, noting Ricottilli and all the volunteers pick age-appropriate, interesting books to share with the children. “They’re all really, really good with the kids.”

Another Read Aloud volunteer is Kay Young, who reads to multiple classes each week and is a member of the Read Aloud Board of Directors. Young volunteers at Coalton Elementary as well as Jennings Randolph Elementary School, and she usually picks chapter books to share with fourth- and fifth-graders.

Last week, she shared “Shiloh” by author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor with Jennings Randolph Elementary’s fourth-graders, and “Navigating Early” by author Clare Vanderpool with fifth-graders in Jim Triplett’s class.

“I don’t mind reading chapter books,” Young said, but she added, “sometimes it’s a bit daunting.”

Read Aloud volunteers are encouraged to read the book they choose three or four times prior to reading it out loud to a class. Young said she usually prepares by reading just one chapter at a time in advance of her Read Aloud appointment, and she starts each new week with a quick “quiz” to jog students’ memories.

“There’s not too many that want to read to older kids,” she noted, and that’s part of the reason why she reads to multiple classes.

Young is a retired registered nurse, and she said she decided she wanted to volunteer with Read Aloud and help show children how fun reading can be.

“I love it. The kids are great — it’s the best retirement gig I know of,” she said.

The students clearly enjoy hearing her read, as there were several shouts of “one more chapter” when Young finished reading to classes last week at Jennings Randolph.

Triplett said he appreciates Young taking time to read to his class.

“She’s amazing. She’s energetic — she gets the kids involved,” Triplett said.

The volunteers’ goal in the Read Aloud program is to show how much fun books are, said Dr. Mary Boyd, director of the Randolph County Read Aloud Chapter. It’s also important to show children that adults other than teachers enjoy reading.

Boyd started as a parent volunteer in the 1990s, when her children were in school. She said she continued reading to classes because she could tell it had a positive impact.

“The purpose of the whole program is to make reading fun for kids, so they want to do it themselves,” she said. “Reading is so important. … (Researchers) have found that Read Aloud does improve reading scores. It really makes a difference.”

She continued, “Being a good reader keeps kids out of prison, believe it or not. It leads to better jobs — it’s really the key to success.”

Read Aloud programs are set up in most schools in Randolph County, and in 30 of the state’s 55 counties. Boyd said the state program offers a great deal of support, and she hopes the Randolph County group can expand into more classrooms. She also hopes the local program can offer more public events, such as Read Aloud events at local libraries as well as free book distributions.

Additional information is available online at https://readaloudwestvirginia.org.