Reading Coaches at Forest City and West Hancock middle schools not only help students with literacy skills, but also serve as mentors.
The coaches serve as "a caring adult in the student's life," said Molly Anderegg, director of RSVP of North Central Iowa.
Reading Coaches are one of RSVP's volunteer opportunities for older adults.
Each Reading Coach works one-on-one with students. The coach and the student take turns reading out loud from a book.
The volunteers are trained to use a guided reading strategy to help students who struggle with reading develop skills good readers have, Anderegg said.
Volunteers help the students out if they struggle to pronounce a word. Sometimes they will ask what a word means, or ask a question about their lives prompted by the book they are reading, such as what their hobbies are.
They meet every week so "they develop a relationship," Anderegg said.
The coaches can guide students if they want to talk about what's happening in their life.
RSVP has Reading Coaches at five schools in North Iowa, including Forest City and West Hancock.
Reading coaches at Forest City are Judith Anderson, JoAnn Bartleson, Mary Baxter, Barb Braun, Annette Bruns, Cheryl Burke, Paul Fitzgerald, Cheryl Hanna, Joan Hansen, Ken Hansen, Cynthia Korth, Roberta Kraft-Abrahamson, Karolyn Overlie and Mary Schaefer.
Reading Coaches at West Hancock are Kathy Johnson, Lucinda McCellan, Connie Price and Jean Sheets.
"I just enjoy being with the kids," said Bruns, who also volunteers at Forest City Elementary through RSVP. "It keeps me busy."
Bruns was a classroom teacher for 40 years. She retired from the Albert City-Truesdale school district in 2012 and then moved to Forest City.
She's been an RSVP volunteer for the past four years.
"I was ready to be done teaching, but I wasn't ready to be done with helping kids," she said.
Among the students Bruns works with at the middle school are twin sisters, Melissa and Karrissa Osborn, who are in seventh grade.
"She gives us time to understand the words that we really don't know," Melissa said.
"I like it because we get to read more," Karrissa said. The more you do it the easier it is to read out loud."
Bruns said the students help pick out the books so they can read something that appeals to them.
For example, the Osborn twins are in this year's middle school play and are helping to build sets, so one of them chose a novel with a school play as part of the plot.
Bruns said she's looking forward to going to the play to see the twins in it.
Jean Sheets of Britt has been a Reading Coach at West Hancock Middle School in Kanawha for five years. Before that she was an RSVP volunteer in the elementary school in Britt.
"I just like to have relationships with the young people in the community," she said.
Sheets said her grandchildren don't live near her so being an RSVP volunteer gives her a way to interact with kids.
"I enjoy their enthusiasm," she said.
Being a Reading Coach allows her to have more of a one-on-one relationship with students, Sheet said. She noted it's easier to see them progress that way.
Some of the students she worked with when she first became a Reading Coach are graduating from West Hancock High School this spring.
She said she likes reading the newspaper and seeing their names on honor roll lists and in stories on school activities.
Anderegg said the majority of students with Reading Coaches have been improving their reading skills, but that also could be atributed to other things the schools are doing.
"We are just one part of the puzzle," she said.
The RSVP Reading Coach Program is a certified mentoring program with the state of Iowa.
Anderegg said research shows having a mentor makes youth less likely to skip school amd start using drugs, and more likely to enroll in college and express interest in becoming mentors themselves.
Anderegg said a lot of people are reluctant to work with middle school-age youth, "but they find them delightful one on one."
"It's amazing how much they open up," she said.
If Reading Coaches can't make it to the weekly session, the kids miss them, according to Anderegg.
She said coaches will tell her, "I think I'm getting more out of it than the student is."
Reading Coaches and other RSVP programs offer a way for the senior volunteers to remain active in the community, according to Anderegg.
She said volunteers have "a lifetime of experience they can give to help young people" which makes a community "a better place to live."
Anderegg said the need is great for more Reading Coach volunteers.
“Each school RSVP partners with has more students in need than volunteers,” she said.
RSVP is sponsored by North Iowa Area Community College and is partly funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, State of Iowa, United Way of North Central Iowa and local county governments.