Long-term Goodyear employees and Akron Reads volunteers discuss their impact on students
For some Akron Public Schools students, reading comes easy. These students recognize words, comprehend their meanings and have dependable access to books.
But for other students, reading is a struggle to master. More so, it’s an activity often neglected.
That’s why nearly 50 Akron-based employees from Goodyear Tire & Rubber devote about an hour of time to one student every week. It’s an hour of reading. Comprehension. Activities. And perhaps most importantly, one-on-one attention.
The program is called Akron Reads. It enlists corporate partners and volunteers from Akron to help local elementary school students improve basic reading skills and ultimately learn to love reading. The format of the program provides students with regular opportunities to receive positive support and more individual attention, which is an experience often impossible to achieve in a classroom.
“The mentoring provides an opportunity for the students to interact with an adult,” says Ron Brubaker, IT project manager. “I always notice progress in the students’ reading skills, but it’s more than that; somewhere there is another benefit, such as building students’ confidence.”
Brubaker, who has worked at Goodyear for 44 years and volunteered with Akron Reads for 16, says he looks forward to tutoring his student every week; he simply feels the need to give back to the community. “It’s very rewarding,” he says, adding, “It’s one of my favorite things to do.”
Terry Yuhaniak, senior tax analyst who has also volunteered with Akron Reads since Goodyear got involved in the 1999-2000 school year, agrees the one-on-one attention toward students is important. Based on her sister’s experience teaching with inner city Columbus schools, Yuhaniak understands the extreme situations some students face at home.
“Individual attention energizes the students,” she explains, adding tutors provide students with a role model. “By my second or third meeting with each student, he or she is running up and hugging me. They really look up to us.”
Yuhaniak recalls one student’s reaction when she explained her upcoming travel to Salt Lake City to attend the Winter Olympics: “I hope you win!”
Making a Difference
Although Goodyear’s Akron Reads volunteers—similar to volunteers from other businesses and organizations—are under time constraints, their time is meaningful to the students they serve.
“Our time makes a difference, particularly to the kids in this age group—second to fourth grade,” Yuhaniak explains. “The work makes a farther reaching impact than what people may realize.”
Although the program’s title suggests it’s all about reading, Akron Reads tutors often supplement reading time with other topics and activities.
“The students love books about animals,” Brubaker says. “Sometimes we read about dinosaurs, and then I ask the student to name the three types of dinosaurs. I keep asking each week until they remember all three. It’s a small thing, but it gets them thinking.”
Brubaker also comments on how excited his students get to play Hangman.
“I typically pick a word from the book we just read,” he explains. “They don’t always catch on to that, but it helps them enhance their comprehension abilities, which is important when reading.”
Holly Martin, who coordinates Goodyear’s Akron Reads volunteers at Mason Community Learning Center, also asks questions when working with her students. “Sometimes it’s helpful for them to hear adults read, too,” she says. “Some students don’t receive that one-on-one connection at home, so it’s enjoyable to help out.”
She recalls running into a former student at the grocery store. “She ran up to me and hugged me!” she says, chuckling.
Contact between tutors and their students doesn’t always end when summer arrives.
For several years, Goodyear volunteers have treated their students from Mason and David Hill Community Learning Center to an outing or end-of-year party to celebrate their accomplishments through Akron Reads.
“We provide goodies and t-shirts for the kids,” Yuhaniak says. “They are treated like they’re stars.”
Brubaker keeps track of the students he tutors through the years. “I hope to see them in the paper someday, with a list of their achievements,” he says. “I believe in their future success.”
If your business or organization is interested in participating in Akron Reads, please visit the website at http://www.akronreads.org/ and click on “Corporate Partners” for a business or “Community Volunteers” for an organization.
Bringing reading closer to home
Chuck Bell knows owning a brand new book is special to some kids.
After working with high school students for several years by helping administer Advanced Placement tests and providing more challenging opportunities to gifted students, Bell’s volunteerism adopted a new focus. He began tutoring elementary school-aged students through Goodyear’s involvement with Akron Reads.
“Our goal is to focus on students who are behind as a result of lack of time and instruction,” he says. “Many of our students come from impoverished situations; once you put a face on poverty, you have to do something about it.”
Bell, a 49-year Goodyear employee who works in polymer science, coordinates the company’s volunteers at David Hill Community Learning Center. And his involvement with Children and Books, a nonprofit he helped establish in the Akron community, supplements Bell’s passion and devotion to enhancing children’s reading experiences by increasing their access to books.
“Children and Books provides new books to children living in poverty,” Bell explains. “These are new books; books the children may own right away.”
Bell’s organization donates between 16,000 and 18,000 books to children in Summit County every year. The donations focus on older children; owning new books helps build their self-esteem.
“Having access to literary material in the home coincides with the improving reading skills developed at school,” Bell says.
When he tutors, Bell encourages his students to choose books about topics that interest them. Because Children and Books’ collection has additional options that interest the students, Bell brings some along during tutoring sessions.
“The literacy skills we help students develop is valuable,” Bell says. “But the obvious, most valuable benefit of Akron Reads, is someone spending time with students one-on-one. The kids really look forward to it.”
He adds, “These are good kids; they’re capable of working up to or exceeding expectations if given a chance.”