Four years ago, Gwynne Thompson, a teacher at Lord Selkirk Annex in Vancouver, was desperate to find a way to improve the reading skills of her students.

Listening intently to Nevin Li at Selkirk Annex in Vancouver is St. Mary’s Kerrisdale parishioner Susan Pecho, participating in a voluntary reading partners program that involves over a dozen volunteers. (Don Christie photo)

Most of these children were from backgrounds where English was not spoken at home. The children might learn to read and write English mechanically, but still would have trouble understanding the meaning of words.

Caring passionately about her students, Gwynne looked for a solution. She felt that it would help if English speaking adults could spend an hour a week reading with the children one-on-one.

She discussed this idea with a friend, the Rev. Kevin Dixon of St Mary’s Kerrisdale. He suggested that some of his parishioners might be willing to volunteer to be “reading partners.” And so the program was born.

Gwynne started out with two volunteers from St. Mary’s. Each day three or four readers gathered in the school library with their parents or grandparents, and the volunteers. The parent or grandparent joined them so they could continue the reading at home.

The first phase of the program began at the Grade 2 level. It was vital to first improve the child’s understanding of vocabulary. Later came more challenging books with an emphasis on an enjoyment of reading and further broadening of understanding.

Dr. Graeme Copeland listens to Kenny Wong.

Thanks to the program, Gwynne has seen reading scores for her students improve considerably. An added benefit is that warm relationships are forged between the students, parents and grandparents, and the volunteers.

The program has expanded. Now fifteen St. Mary’s parishioners read to 50 children weekly at Lord Selkirk. There are more opportunities for volunteers. If you have time to listen to a child, contact Gwynne Thompson, Lord Selkirk Annex, 604 713-4735.