Monday April 17, 2023

ReadOKC Reading Buddies Encourage Reading And Build Hope

ReadOKC is the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation led reading and literacy initiative with a mission to instill a love of reading in our students and community. The mission is accomplished by focusing collaboratively with the school district and the community on three key pillars: Encouraging and incentivizing kids to read by hosting reading challenges during school breaks. It’s working with more than 32 million minutes logged during breaks. Another pillar is providing access to reading materials and that is happening through Little Libraries at every school site and the mobile book bus ReadOKC On the Go, where volunteers have distributed 27,000 books so far.

The final pillar pairs caring adult volunteers with small groups of students to read/mentor once per week during the school year. In elementary school the program is called Reading Buddies, and secondary school volunteers host Book Clubs with their students, incorporating some independent reading and group conversation.

Being a Reading Buddy/Book Club Host is a true commitment on the part of the volunteers – there is no parachuting in and out at will. Reading, discussing the book’s themes, vocabulary and characters are all primary parts of this program. But, it involves so much more. This type of volunteering involves relationship building and trust building. Many of our students see school as their safe space. Adult volunteers who dedicate time to care and believe in them make a huge difference in their lives. Letting them down is not an option.

I’ve had the honor to host a middle school book club with the same group of four girls for two consecutive years and plan on being with them for as long as they’ll have me. We’ve read some good books together. And, we’ve had some amazing conversations. About fears and insecurities and dad in prison and poverty and having nothing for Christmas. About bullying and suicide and names kids get called who are gay or Black or Mexican. About life. And about a future that can be different.

Oprah Winfrey said, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” Mentors don’t always see the results of their efforts immediately, but I like to think I’ve helped my girls realize how special they are and I want to believe I’ve helped them see hope within themselves. I do know they always show up on Fridays and they are always prepared to talk about the book we’re reading. They always have things to talk about and have shared openly some very private things. They are all smart, talented and amazing, with plenty to overcome. Time will tell about what their futures hold. One thing is certain, they have made an indelible mark on me.

Thank you to all the caring individuals who poured into our kids this school year through the ReadOKC Reading Buddies/Book Club program. Your time, energy and effort makes a difference and we hope you’ll be back next school year. To anyone interested in helping, please reach out to us at We will connect you with a school and provide group or individual training. Once you spend time in our schools and get to know our kids, you too will become an OKCPS Champion.

–Mary Mélon-Tully, President & CEO of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation.

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