Story with a happy ending: reading mentor program links kids forever

HELPING HAND: Hannah McKay says she loves helping people improve their reading skills. Photo: MEGAN FOSTER                                                   0802readMF1

HELPING HAND: Hannah McKay says she loves helping people improve their reading skills. Photo: MEGAN FOSTER 0802readMF1

DESPITE speaking to each other on the phone for 30 minutes three times a week two Orange school girls know they’ll never meet.

As part of an innovative Smith Family reading program, 13-year-old Hannah McKay has become the mentor of a 10-year-old girl in an effort to improve her literacy skills.

The student2student program focuses on children in years three to eight who have a reading age up to two years behind their chronological age and matches them with reading buddies.

The reading buddies are at least two years older and trained to improve literacy skills in their peers. 

If participant don’t have access to landlines they’re provided with Optus mobile phones to enable them to read aloud to each other at least twice a week for 18 weeks. 

This is the second time Hannah has been a mentor and she said she’d consider doing it next year.

“We each get a copy of the same book and she reads to me,” Hannah said.

“They’re chapter books, but they’re not overly hard.”

Hannah admits while the conversation was slow initially, the two eventually became friends.

“At first it was a bit weird talking on the phone but soon I didn’t really notice,” she said.

“It’s fun to help her.”

Hannah said it’s been rewarding to hear her phone buddy’s reading skills improve since the phone calls began in June.

“It’s nice knowing that you’re doing something good to help someone and it’s nice to have another friend,” she said.

“She’s very interesting.”

The Smith Family NSW general manager Steve Macready said student2student was producing outstanding results. 

“A major recent study of student2student showed 93 per cent of participants improved their reading,” Mr. Macready said. 

“Before a child even sets foot inside the classroom they should have the foundations for future literacy, but sadly, only 65 per cent of children aged nought to five years old from low socio-economic communities are read to regularly, compared to 80 per cent in more advantaged areas.”

tracey.prisk@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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