TraVell Almond, 8, reads a book on Thursday with the support of West End Baptist Church volunteer Cindy Robinson. The church started tutoring children in reading about two months ago and now has about 30 kids participating.
TraVell Almond, 8, reads a book on Thursday with the support of West End Baptist Church volunteer Cindy Robinson. The church started tutoring children in reading about two months ago and now has about 30 kids participating.

Reading with confidence

Published 11:00pm Friday, March 7, 2014

In a small classroom on the top floor of West End Baptist Church, 5-year-old Vanessa Taylor groups pictures of objects by their beginning sounds.

Nearby, another young girl pronounces words as an adult presents them on flashcards. Other children are reading books to their tutors.

The church started the program, which runs from 5 to 6 p.m. every Thursday, as a ministry to the surrounding neighborhood, where students attend Elephant’s Fork Elementary School. It has grown to include students from several other schools, said Beth Pipkin, the pastor’s wife and a reading specialist in Virginia Beach. She is coordinating the program, which has about 30 children so far.

It is based on Book Buddies, a program began at the University of Virginia in partnership with Charlottesville schools, where Pipkin received her master’s degree in reading.

With her background, it was natural for Pipkin to suggest a reading tutor program when the church was looking for an outreach project, she said. Book Buddies is designed to get children reading on grade level by third grade.

“Children need to be reading on grade level by the third grade in order to have the most success in life,” she said.

Several reading specialists with Suffolk Public Schools are volunteering with the program, Pipkin said, saying the volunteer base quickly spread beyond just church members after tutoring started in January.

One of the reading specialists creates lesson plans, which are individualized for each student and aligned with state standards. The children do reading activities they are used to doing in school, Pipkin said.

Each week, children are given a book on their reading level to take home.

“When they read on their level, they can feel successful,” she said. “So much of reading is confidence.”

Jenny Owens, a reading specialist in Suffolk Public Schools and mother of a child in the program, affirmed that.

“That’s the biggest thing, the confidence booster,” she said. “As a mom, I can definitely say it’s been helpful. To me, any time you have an adult with a child and a book, it’s going to do nothing but help.”

Nicholas and Fortuna Taylor say their daughter, Vanessa, was having trouble with pronunciation and did not like reading before coming to the program. But her reading is improving now, and she gets excited about it, they said.

Several students have progressed in their reading levels since starting the program, Pipkin added. The best thing is that it’s free and, since it’s in the downtown area, many children can walk to it.

“I think we’re really lucky to have parents who want to bring their children and children who want to come,” said Mary Davies, a volunteer.

Pastor Bob Pipkin said the program isn’t evangelistic in nature.

“We’d love for people to come to church here, but that’s not the purpose of it,” he said. “The purpose of it is to give to the community.”

The church ultimately hopes to be able to get grant funding to extend the program to more schools and operate during the school day.

To get more information about the program, call the church at 539-8771.

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