Let Leeds Read
Written by Emily Hoyland
“Hands up if you want to read” – Several eager hands shot up, followed by several more, obviously encouraged by the response from their peers.
This was my fifth week as a volunteer reading mentor at Chapel Allerton primary school, and I was amazed at the difference five weeks had made. During my first week of the programme, I was met with apprehension from the Year 5 pupils I was working with. They eyed me cautiously, gaze flickering towards their teacher, their peers, back to me. As the weeks went by, apprehension was replaced with the kind of curiosity you would expect from a 10 year old. “Are you going to be here every day?” “Are you a teacher?” “How old are you?” And so on.
Let Leeds Read is a programme set up by Leeds Beckett University and the Students’ Union. Its aim is simple, to give more children in Leeds and surrounding areas the opportunity to read and develop their literacy skills, whilst providing an opportunity for university students to get involved in a worthwhile volunteering program. Cara McCosh, Senior Projects Officer for Volunteering, Study Abroad and Exchanges at Leeds Beckett, spoke to me about the idea behind the project: “Let Leeds Read provides rewarding volunteering opportunities for students in a school environment. This reading project, working with local primary schools surrounding the university campuses, enables student volunteers to work one on one with children listening to them read with the aim of increasing their reading age over a 10 week period.” The Let Leeds Read programme is going into its third year, and looks set to be just as successful in 2015 as it has been previously.
From my time as a reading volunteer I can acknowledge the importance of enjoying reading. The well-stocked and meticulously organised library space at Chapel Allerton primary school, with its comfortable seating and calm atmosphere encourages reading for enjoyment as much as it is possible to do so. I read in this environment with children at various stages of reading ability and with every new reader I ask the same question: “Do you enjoy reading?”. I receive a hesitant shrug or an embarrassed head shake from a small handful of pupils, though the majority are enthusiastic. By encouraging pupils to regard reading as a fun experience in a comfortable atmosphere, Chapel Allerton school and many other schools involved in the program are going a long way towards improving pupils’ general attitude towards reading.
But not without the help of Leeds Beckett students… For only one hour a week volunteers have the opportunity to contribute to and support the development of pupils’ literacy skills and to develop skills of their own too. Rebekah Redford, a student at Leeds Beckett and a Let Leeds Read volunteer, firmly believes in the programme. “It’s a really nice feeling knowing that we’re helping pupils at the school and it’s also beneficial to us as volunteers. We learn to deal with new situations and to develop our patience and understanding with the pupils. The teachers are so welcoming and grateful for the help, as it gives them more chance to have one on one time with their pupils too.”
I personally encourage anyone to get involved in Let Leeds Read or similar projects within their own Students’ Union. Knowing that the work you are doing in your spare time is potentially developing a child’s ability for future success is an amazing feeling and I know that my passion for this campaign will undoubtedly stretch beyond the length of the ten week program. I, for one, will be volunteering again this coming year- will you?
The Let Leeds Read programme starts again next term and the deadline to apply is the 11th January 2015. Please email Emily Stevenson – firstname.lastname@example.org – for an application form.