For many Americans, going to their school’s library is a fond childhood memory. But not every school has a library or can afford to take trips to one.
Enter Jan Phillips, volunteer “Book Buddy” with the Tyler Public Library.
Once a week, Mrs. Phillips visits St. Louis Early Childhood Center and reads to children in the Head Start program.
“I love small children and their excitement,” Mrs. Phillips said. “This gives them a good foundation in school and develops a love of reading.”
Mrs. Phillips, 67, is a retired first-grade teacher with a career spanning more than 30 years. She was missing the classroom when she saw an advertisement in the Tyler Morning Telegraph for volunteers needed to read books to children.
“I knew immediately that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.
Mrs. Phillips reads three times in the morning on Wednesday to a total of seven classes at the school. She is even considering adding more reading time at other schools to that schedule.
Other volunteers with the Book Buddy program read at other schools in Tyler.
“It helps teachers, because activities like this also teach children when to be quiet and sit and listen,” she said.
Head Start is a federal program that began in Tyler ISD as a summer program as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” in 1965.
Sonja Watson, early childhood education coordinator for the Tyler ISD Head Start program, said the program teaches children and their parents how to be prepared for entering kindergarten.
The program levels the playing field for students of different socioeconomic statuses, said Linda Gray, Mrs. Phillips’ supervisor and the library’s youth services librarian.
The grant that makes Head Start possible in Tyler serves 432 children who will be 4 years old on or before September 1 of the current school year, Mrs. Watson said.
“Our program must provide 20 percent matching funds through in-kind donations or parent and community volunteer time in order for us to receive the full grant funded level,” she said.
That’s another reason volunteers such as Mrs. Phillips are so important, and the library is always looking for more volunteers.
“When you’re reading a book to children about things they haven’t experienced, like going to the circus or the zoo, it exposes them to new things,” Mrs. Phillips said. “I love to see them excited; that’s what I miss most (about teaching.)”
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