A childhood joy to share

Books were Donna Pahl's best friends as she was growing up. They offered adventure. A way to explore the world from the comforts of home. A form of escape.

"I cherished them," said Pahl, 54, of Wyandotte.

That's why she's so committed to the Reading Corps initiative. She wants young children in Detroit to experience books the way she did.

"Reading is so important. You can't go anywhere in life without it."

Pahl was bursting with excitement as she talked about the program. She hopes she'll make a difference with the children she works with. And she hopes the kids in turn will pay it forward and help others.

"It almost brings me to tears, it's so exciting," she said.

Reading Corps Orientation & Ralley

Call to action resonates

Some who came out Saturday, filling the halls of Renaissance High School, credited Robert Bobb, the district's emergency financial manager, with inspiring them to volunteer.

"He put the call out, and I felt it was my obligation to answer," said India Sifford, 32, of Oak Park. "There's always so much negativity around us. People really want to be part of the solution."

She said she was "taken aback" when she heard the news last month about the dismal scores posted by Detroit students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam.

"I was in disbelief."

Sifford spent her early childhood in Detroit, and attended DPS schools through second grade.

"I don't recall it being challenging," she said of learning to read. "I had all the tools I needed. I had the support in education."

She also had something that may be lacking in some homes -- her parents were insistent that she get a good education.

Kids today, she said, don't have that external motivation and they have too many outside influences, Sifford said.

"The emphasis isn't always on schools."

A way to say 'Thanks, Mom!'

“This is something I can share with kids — my love of books.”

Michelle Lonskey learned to read before she went to kindergarten, and she can credit her mother with not only teaching her but inspiring a love of reading.

"She taught me to read by reading me the same book over and over again," said Lonskey, 32, of Ferndale. "I'm sure it drove her crazy. It was 'Big Bird's Red Book.' I probably still have it memorized."

It's been a lifelong love affair with reading for Lonskey, a manager at AT&T.

"When I heard about this, I was so excited. This is something I can share with kids — my love of books."

People still do care

Education just doesn't have the same significance to today's African-American kids that it did decades ago, said Vivian Buyck, 54, of Detroit. Back then, she said, her parents struggled and fought for rights during the civil rights movement. They pushed their kids to take advantage of a good education.

"We wanted it more," Buyck said.

Now, she said, a combination of poor teaching and poor parenting has led to the situation the district is in.

"Everybody takes the blame in this," Buyck said.

But she was happy Saturday to see the large response.

Reading Corps Orientation & Ralley

"People really do care. There is a need and there is a love for humanity. I am really impressed with that."

Another way for nurse to help

You could hear the emotion in Pat Bevier's voice as she explained how she was encouraged to volunteer after reading about the dismal scores in Detroit Public Schools.

"It just broke my heart when I saw the report," said Bevier, 53, of Farmington Hills.

Her mother was a teacher, and her family instilled a love of learning and reading.

Bevier is a nurse at Children's Hospital in Detroit, and she works across the street from Spain Elementary. That's where she hopes to volunteer an hour a week.

Being part of the solution

Nathan Reynolds likes volunteering and helping people, so it was natural that he was among the thousands who signed up to participate in the Reading Corps program.

"When Mr. Bobb asked for assistance, of course I was more than willing to go and help, not just because I have more time because I'm retired but simply because I see a need there and I want to satisfy that need."

Reynolds of Dearborn said he's looking forward to connecting with the children he will tutor.

"I want to be able to get there and help these children get a head start in reading and math."

For himself, he expects to feel a sense of satisfaction "knowing I'm part of the solution."

Just like first day of school for this Detroit Reading Corps volunteer

Posted by: Beth Reeber Valone (The Detroit News) on Tue, May 4, 2010 at 2:23 p.m.

I was a little nervous, like the first day of school. Would they like me? Would it be uncomfortable? Will I be good at it? Hanging out with preschoolers can do that to you. Today was my first day "on the job" as a Detroit Public Schools Reading Corps volunteer!

“My aim is to keep them focused and enthused.”

Well, leave it to little kids to put you at ease. I was lucky to be paired with 4-year-old Bethany and 5-year-old Sydni at Burton International School near the old Tiger Stadium. We had a great time this morning getting to know each other a little bit as the girls shared their journal pictures and stories with me. Then it was down to business, going through an alphabet packet. These girls are sharp! They know all their letters already and can read and write a little bit, too. My aim is to keep them focused and enthused.

I LOVE to read so I'm looking forward to helping the girls read and write stories and develop a love for school in the years to come. As the mom of two teen boys, I also relish getting my little girl fix. Bonus!

Research shows it is extremely difficult for a struggling reader to catch up if the child is unable to read by the end of third grade. The abilities of kids at this preschool age range widely and others need a lot more support and encouragement, so if you can spare an hour so a week, please join the program to help battle Detroit Schools' "reading emergency."


Used with permission from The Detroit Free Press • Contact Lori Higgins: (313) 222-6651 or lhiggins@freepress.com.