Free reading lessons this fall

Published 9:39 pm Thursday, August 17, 2017

Parents of children struggling with reading can sign up for a free, after-school tutoring program in downtown Suffolk this fall.

Book Buddies was developed at University of Virginia and Charlottesville City Schools. Its fifth year in Suffolk will begin on Oct. 5 at West End Baptist Church on West Washington Street. Sessions will be from 4:30 to 5:10 and 5:20 to 6 p.m. every Thursday.

Children enrolled in kindergarten to third grade are eligible to sign up. The program is coordinated by Beth Pipkin, director of Children’s Literacy of Suffolk, a non-profit organization that provides children with foundations for strong literacy.

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“If they don’t build those foundations right away, they’ll build strategies of their own to deal with reading, and they’re not always good strategies,” Pipkin said.

Pipkin personally trains volunteer tutors who are eager to help children with positive reading strategies. No prior teaching experience is required.

“Anything we can do to help these struggling students is a big plus,” said volunteer tutor Mary Harrell. “You can actually see the children change during the school year as you’re working with them.”

Each tutor is assigned to two students, and each will have a unique lesson plan designed by Pipkin according to her assessment of each child’s reading capabilities. Healthy snacks are provided to the students at each session to give them more energy during their lessons.

Children learn by re-reading passages, studying words and writing their own sentences. This foundation for “decoding” their readings allows them to improve their individual reading comprehension at their own pace.

“Children cannot decode and comprehend at the same time,” Pipkin said. “They have to know how to decode by the second or third grade.”

Each child is provided with a book downloaded from that fits their respective reading levels. They can take these books home and even color in the pictures for another way to interact with the text, Pipkin said.

Suffolk resident Lisa Knox plans to enroll her 8-year-old daughter, Madyson, for her third consecutive year in the program. Knox said her daughter was reading at a fourth-grade level last year, as a second-grade student at Northern Shores Elementary School,

“She has absolutely loved her tutors,” she said. “I can’t speak highly enough of the bond she has with the ladies that tutor the program.”

As of Thursday, 10 volunteers have signed up to tutor for the program this fall. Parents can be put on a waiting list for when a spot opens, or when more tutors arrive to help even more children.

“The more volunteers we have, the more children we can serve,” Pipkin said.

Call 620-8220 or visit for more information.