Honors College students read to school children through ‘Book Buddies’ project

The Honors College’s Kate Henderson works with a Smokey Mountain Elementary student. Reading and related activities may be with a classroom, small groups or one-on-one.

Students from Western Carolina University’s Honors College have continued their “Book Buddies” volunteer project with students at Smokey Mountain Elementary School in Whittier this spring semester, and it continues to be popular and beneficial for all involved, participants say.

At the Jackson County school, not far from the Qualla Boundary, the Honors College students read to the elementary school students on a regular basis as schedules allow, sometimes to a classroom or a small group and sometimes as a one-on-one activity. Coordination is handled by Honors College students with elementary school teachers, who also pick out appropriate reading material.

“I know the benefits of students having books read to them from an early age,” said Ally Bevers, an Honors College student from Mount Airy, Georgia. She spoke from personal experience, saying she was fortunate to have a caring teacher who took time normally allotted for recess to stay inside, read and explain the words to her, and encourage her to read to her classmates, all of which Bevers said gave her a boost in confidence and reading and writing abilities.

The interaction between Honors College students and elementary school students has been quite successful, school administrators said.

“I also love how the program has become popular and grown at the school,” Bevers said. “Many teachers request to have a Book Buddy for their class, and from the feedback we’ve received, it’s really helping the students out, too.”

The major impact of the program is the opportunity it provides for students to have more time to read, said Tracie J. Metz, principal of Smokey Mountain Elementary School. “Our students love having another adult to read with them. It builds their confidence and helps improve their participation in class. I’ve been very impressed by the students in the Honors College. They have been kind to our students and ethical in their practice with our staff and students. During the first year, the scheduling of students with a classroom was an exciting challenge to meet. The WCU students have really taken the reins on organizing themselves within the parameters of our schedule.”

Transportation expenses for the Cullowhee to Whittier trips have been covered by T-shirt sales by the Honors College, with other fundraiser opportunities possible in the future.

“This new partnership with Smokey Mountain is really important to me as it addresses the core value of the Honors College, which is a love of learning,” said Jill Granger, dean of the college. “The impressions that our Honors Students can have on these elementary students will make a lasting difference in their lives and can affect how they view school.

“Likewise, the opportunity that our Honors Students have to serve in this capacity will similarly make a meaningful impression on them, as they learn to see the world through these fresh eyes. I am so grateful that Tracie Metz was open to the idea and has been such a wonderful partner in making this work.”

For more information, contact the Honors College at 828-227-7383.