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Denver7 Everyday Hero helps kids fall in love with reading

Partners in Literacy volunteers read with DPS kids
julie neitz wielga
Posted at 10:28 AM, Jun 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-14 12:28:17-04

DENVER — For second grade teacher Ms. Deb, the greatest gift you can give a child is the gift of reading.

"What we want children to do is not just read, but have a love for literacy," said Ms. Deborah Sims Fard.

The dedicated Stedman Elementary School teacher knew getting her kids to read enough would be tough in the midst of such a scattered school year.

"How do I connect with 30 kids on a computer and make sure their needs, their learning needs are met? You do it by bringing in community," said Ms. Deb.

It turns out it would take a village of readers.

"Reading buddy time was the brightest spot in my week. I looked forward to it and I glowed afterwards as well," said volunteer reader Arna Caplan.

Ms. Deb called on the help of Partners in Literacy. Every week, volunteers with the program would log onto Zoom and read one-on-one with Ms. Deb's students for an hour. The program started 21 years ago and is the brainchild of Julie Neitz Wielga.

"I actually came to this work because I have a child who seemed to be brilliant in many ways and could not read," Julie said.

Julie knew in order to help her son, she had to create a community that would support all of the students.

"If we walk into a classroom, we have a volunteer for every kid because you can’t create a community by taking children out of the classroom. The only way is to make the classroom the community," said Julie.

The program is unique because it tries to pair reading buddies with the same students for several years. They're not just trying to get kids to read; they want to plant a seed of passion for reading.

"We want that book to touch them," Julie said.

"When you have a book that relates to your experience, that talks and speaks to who you are; you want more of that," said Ms. Deb.

In what was a disconnected school year, Ms. Deb says thanks to Julie and her village of reading buddies, what happened in those Zoom rooms was truly remarkable.

"I had a student who cried because she was gonna miss her buddy, so that’s the passion you want all learners to have. … They have made a connection not only with the person they’re reading with, but they understand that person is so invested in their success, they don’t wanna let them go. You can’t ask for more than that," said Ms. Deb.

Partners in Literacy is looking for volunteer readers to read in Denver Public Schools. For more information, visit their website.

Molly Hendrickson anchors Denver7 in the mornings from 4:30-7 a.m. She also features a different 7Everyday Hero each week on Denver7. Follow Molly on Facebook here and Twitter here. To nominate a hero in your life, click here.