Reading Buddy spreads the word

Published May 24, 2007

SPRING HILL - When the kindly newcomer walks into the elementary school classroom, tiny hands shoot toward the sky while the children cry, "Pick me! Pick me!"

Another Reading Buddy has come to Spring Hill Elementary School, looking to help second-graders overcome some reading difficulties.

Pat Schoppmeyer leads a group of 41 volunteer Reading Buddies, men and women ages 50- to 80-something of divergent backgrounds and a shared interest in helping children.

But she could always use more buddies.

"I know there's a wealth of people in Hernando County who could help with children, and I know how rewarding that feels, " she said.

Schoppmeyer used to live in Orlando and volunteered at schools there. She moved here and three years ago pitched the idea of reading helpers to Denise Moen of the Hernando County Volunteer Center.

She pulled together a small group of volunteers from Glen Lakes, the gated community where she lives. They were assigned to work one-on-one, an hour a week, with Spring Hill Elementary second-graders.

Using signs posted around the community, phone calls and grapevine messages from neighbor to neighbor, Schoppmeyer has beefed the Buddies from a handful of volunteers to 41 members. Each new volunteer attends orientation and tours the school before meeting the students.

Schoppmeyer would like to see the program catch on in other parts of the county and is willing to help organize those groups, provided they supply their own leaders.

"There are so many neighborhoods and small communities like ours, that I can see groups forming all over, " she said.

The school administration, whom Schoppmeyer credits with a huge assist in her group's success, is tracking the number of Reading Buddy hours and will match those against measurable improvements made.

This year, second-grader Brienna Maribel earned a reading-improvement award in a countywide program. Schoppmeyer said that progress is attributable to hard work by Brienna, her teachers and her family.

But she didn't discount the help of her Reading Buddy.

"I'd like to think we made a difference for Brienna, too, " she said.