Meet Our Pairs

Shaifa & Michael

After a challenging school-year turned on its head due to Covid, Shaifa and her sister Somaira enrolled in Community Reading Buddies. From the first session, Shaifa, a rising 3rd grader, connected with her mentor Michael.

Michael incentivized Shaifa to complete new literacy activities with games of “Would you rather?” and promises to introduce her to a new fantasy book. Each session, Michael challenged her just a little bit more.

By the end of the eight weeks, Shaifa grew by seven months in literacy! And what inspired Michael? When he was learning to read, he says that he really struggled and wanted to give back.

At the end, he said, “I left every session feeling super happy and really proud of Shaifa.” Shaifa hopes to get Michael as a mentor again!

“Every day, Shaifa was very excited for Reading Buddies and to see Michael. He made her feel like she can get better every day. I’ve never seen her in a class where she was this excited!”

– Shaifa’s Mom Sajeda

Nzube & Shivani

Coming into Summer 2021, Nzube was an energetic, creative 3rd grader with a love for drawing but who hadn’t yet felt confident or excited about reading. Enter Nzube’s Youth Mentor this summer, Shivani Umesh. A freshman at Seneca Valley, Shivani quickly earned Nzube’s trust through her immediate encouragement and enthusiasm. Shivani found that Nzube had never been introduced to nonfiction books. And she saw him come alive when they worked through

stories of history and real-life figures. And the results were astounding. Not only did Nzube work with Shivani for one 8-week cycle, Nuzbe asked to stay on for a second (8 week) cycle of CRB and is now reading on a 4th grade level.

Nzube grew by more than a full grade level in literacy! That injection of confidence has made Nzube genuinely enthusiastic about reading. 

“He keeps asking me to take him to the library. He’s never done that!”

– Nzube’s Mom Jane

Envy & Caitlin

Envy and Caitlin are one of Community Reading Buddies’ greatest success stories. Going into Summer 2020, Envy was a joyful, sharp rising 3rd grader with a passion for math and science but who, for whatever reason, hadn’t felt confident in reading.

Envy’s Mom had tried everything from other reading programs to motivating her with science projects, but nothing was quite working. Then Caitlin began working with Envy twice a week. Usually skeptical of meeting new people, Envy quickly connected with Caitlin through her immediate enthusiasm and laugh.

Meanwhile, Caitlin found that, as a highly empathetic child, Envy thrived and felt inspired by stories when she asked her questions about the characters and their motivations. The confidence from their work together gave Envy so much more interest in reading that she started asking her Mom what books she could read next.

And the results were astounding. After only seven weeks together, Envy grew by more than a full grade level in literacy according to Fountas & Pinnell assessments! As Envy said, “I wish we could do it all year.”

“Envy had low confidence in herself when it came to reading. And she’s never really been interested in reading. Now she wants to read all the time!…I love this program!”

– Envy’s Mom Shamika

COVID-19 Response

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How is Community Reading Buddies making decisions about the health and safety of staff members, volunteers, and students as long as the public health crisis persists?

Community Reading Buddies is currently 100% virtual. This not only allows the program to reach the most students, but having an award-winning digital literacy platform support our youth mentors’ work actually deepens the impact of the program. Once we begin to emerge from the health crisis, Community Reading Buddies will host in-person kick-off and celebration events to supplement the daily virtual programming. However, that will only be done once health experts advise that it’s safe.

About the Program

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How does Community Reading Buddies select students for its program?

Among our young readers, we prioritize students from Title I schools who are currently below grade level in literacy. After the initial eight-week cycle, we continue to invite those students to future cycles until they reach grade level. Initially, we will at first connect with those students either through an arrangement with their school or outreach through the school’s district.

Many of our youth mentors come to us through Oakland’s Exploring College and Career Options (ECCO) internship program. Others come from the dozens of Bay Area high schools we’ve established a relationship with over our 27-year history. Mentors go through an application and training process, with commitment and passion being the most important indicators of success. 

As much as possible, we attempt to pair youth and young readers according to languages spoken and geography.

How long are students generally in the program?

Each Community Reading Buddies cycle is eight weeks. However, most of our middle and high schoolers choose to volunteer again. And young readers who don’t reach grade level in literacy are invited back until they do.

What curriculum do you use?

CRB’s curriculum is aligned with the Fountas and Pinnell literacy standards with a special emphasis on:

  • Phonological Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension

We are proud to partner with BookNook, a digital literacy platform where Youth Mentors and their Buddies engage in literacy activities via online video conferencing. BookNook helps us meet every student’s individual needs, according to their exact Fountas & Pinnell level, through fun literacy activities and level-appropriate and carefully-selected books.

How can I get my child enrolled in Community Reading Buddies?

Advocate with your school! Tell them to contact us and express interest in a virtual, live visit of the program. You can also contact us to express your personal interest, but we cannot guarantee programming. We find our students are most successful when programming is done in partnership with schools and districts.

How do you know it works?

Every lesson and activity students are taken through on BookNook collects data on what the students are excelling at and what they still need work on. That data is used to show us each student’s progress and is cross-referenced with “leveling” assessments we’ll give them at the end of the program as well as with their school’s data. Amazingly, over each 8-week cycle, our readers average four months of growth in literacy! That would be two full years of growth over each year.

About Volunteering as a Youth Mentor

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Who is eligible to volunteer?

Any Bay Area 7th-12th grader is welcome to apply!

How are the youth mentors selected?

The most important characteristic is commitment. During the application and training process, we look to see that you are committed, reliable, and enthusiastic. Then in the matching process, we place extra emphasis on pairing students together from similar neighborhoods and schools. However, the majority of our mentor applicants do get accepted!

What is the commitment?

The minimum commitment is 3 hours per week for 8 weeks (1.5 hours per session, twice a week); however, you can volunteer up to 20 hours per week.

During the program, Youth Mentors will meet with a TK-3rd grade student engaging with fun literacy activities via video conferencing. We ask Youth Mentors to commit to the full eight weeks in order to build a strong relationship with their Buddies.

Each session is scheduled as follows:

  • 15 min — Power Up! Skill Building Mini-Session
  • 60 min — Ready? Set. READ! One-on-one literacy activities with your Buddy
  • 15 min — Wrap Up! Youth Mentor Debrief
How are the youth mentors trained?

Youth mentors are first invited to a 3-hour training in which they have the opportunity to connect as a community, get familiar the basics of early literacy development, and learn critical skills in connection, confidence, and communication. Both the technical skills of the program and the social-emotional skills that they can carry with them long after the progress are reinforced throughout the program, through a 15 minute training before each 1:1 with their reader and the 15 minute debrief afterwards. In the end, 96% of our youth mentors report growth as leaders and communicators.

What if I can’t make all the sessions?

Just let us know with plenty of notice, so we can make sure your reader can join with another group. But if you’ll need to miss more than 2 sessions over the course of the 8 weeks, please let us know during the application process.

About Volunteering as an Adult

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Do you take adult volunteers?

We do! While the core programming of Community Reading Buddies is driven by our youth mentors, we strive to support our youth mentors just as much as they support our young readers, by providing mentoring sessions to help them with their resumes, college applications, and initial career questions. If you’re interested in helping in that area, please contact us here and provide more of your background and reason for interest.

Didn’t find the answer to your questions?
Please reach out to us through our contact form here.