Learning Buddies: Helping School Children

Those who volunteer should have a passion and enthusiasm for their assignment, and that passion and enthusiasm is certainly apparent in Jim Paskett and Yvonne Morency, both DARTS Learning Buddies in Dakota County elementary schools.

“My goodness, they’re reading like troopers,” said Jim, 74, speaking of his first-grade charges at Glacier Hills Elementary School of Arts and Sciences in Eagan. A retired federal employee with two children and seven grandchildren, he is known by the students as “Grandpa Jim.”

Learning Buddies is a DARTS multigenerational program in which volunteers spend one hour a week in elementary school classrooms, helping students with reading, mathematics, and science.

Jim is now in his fourth year. When he started, he lived across the street from Emma Holmblad, a first-grade teacher at Glacier. “Why don’t you come over and volunteer for the reading program?” Emma asked one day. The rest, as they say, is history.

He generally works with students one on one, listening to them while they read. Students are grouped according to their reading ability. Jim is impressed by their progress as the year goes on, especially those students who read with their parents at home.

Yvonne, 72, agrees. She spends an hour a week in Kim Bauer’s second-grade class at Lincoln Center Elementary School, helping students with their reading. “I think sometimes it’s good for a child to just be able to talk to somebody who’s not there to judge or correct, who’s just going to listen,” she said.

While the students read, she works with them on their fluency, makes sure they stop at periods, and gets them to put expression in their reading, making it sound like a conversation, not a recitation. Once, when reading a story about a dragon, one youngster got very enthusiastic. “This little boy, I thought he was going to spit fire,” Yvonne said.

Now in her fourth year as a volunteer, she got involved after attending a style show at the South St. Paul Senior Center. A person mentioned the Learning Buddies program. “It sounded interesting. I called DARTS up and they brought me in,” she said. I thought, ‘There should be something I can do with my time that’s constructive,’” she remembered.

She isn’t sorry she signed up. “I love it. It’s one of the highlights of my week,” she said. “I like the excitement of the children. They’re all just so excited and happy to be there. It just tickles me that they’re having such a good time learning,” she said.

Yvonne believes she is able to develop a rapport with the students, because she shows an interest in them. “I just let them know I’m not a teacher and I’m not there to test them. I try to tell them I’m here to have fun with them and to read,” she said.

She believes she helps the teacher, also. “I think teachers in this day and age have a very difficult job to do. They have so many rules and regulations they have to abide by that really take time away from teaching,” Yvonne said. “I think it’s particularly had for teachers to give one-on-one time when there are 25-26 children. So when I go in there, I can spend a short amount of time with one child and a small group of children one on one,” she said.

With several years of Learning Buddies experience between them, Yvonne and Jim are great role models for people of all ages who want to make a difference in the life of a child. And the unexpected happened…it made a difference in their lives, too!

By Matt Wetzel, DARTS volunteer

Learning buddy with student