MILFORD — Read Aloud Delaware volunteers are finding ways to continue their connections with the children of Sussex County during the pandemic. The children’s literacy program has partnered with the Milford School District to provide assistance to students who may be struggling with hybrid and remote learning.
The program is the brainchild of Dr. Ilona Holland, a former faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of children‘s books. From the start of the pandemic, Holland was looking for a way to help.
“In the fall,” recalls DR. Holland, “it became clear that schools and teachers were being stretched to their limits. As the days continued to grow shorter, the plight of the children trying to learn remotely loomed larger and larger.”
Dr. Holland posted a request for homework help volunteers on FaceBook. Laurie Moorman, special education coordinator for Benjamin Banneker School in Milford, responded and pulled together a team to discuss opportunities within the school district.
This led to a meeting with Dr. Bridget Amory, director of Student Learning in the Milford School District and Stacy Penaranda, Sussex County coordinator of Read Aloud Delaware.
After a planning meeting to work out some logistics, an online Homework Helper program was conceived and launched.
Dr. Amory is able to identify Milford School District students who would benefit from a Homework Helper, and Ms. Penaranda has Read Aloud volunteers anxious to get back to the task of helping young people. Holland provides the orientation to the program for the volunteers and technical training to facilitate remote learning.
“Dr. Holland approached me about using our volunteers to speed up the process of matching helpers with students since they were already vetted,” explained Ms. Penaranda. “
Prior to COVID-19, 240 Read Aloud Delaware volunteers in Sussex County were reading one-on-one to preschool children in 40 Head Start locations, child care centers, preschools and kindergartens.
“Since COVID began, our volunteer readers have been kept from their work helping students succeed,” said Ms. Penaranda.
“Volunteering as a Homework Helper affords them the opportunity to assist children in a different way. It will also get them back in the routine of volunteering their time once a week until we can get back to reading to preschoolers in the fall.”
Volunteers are able to select a student to work with. The student and the helper meet virtually once-a-week via the Google Meets platform for about 45 minutes. During this time, the students can get assistance on particular assignments and encouragement and support from their Homework Helper.
Dr. Amory is excited about the program.
“The volunteers and Read Aloud Delaware staff have been incredibly passionate about helping and have been eager to get started,” she said. “It is exciting to see the volunteers so willing to work with our students as well as being willing to work through the learning curves associated with the use of technology.”
Within the first month of the program, 22 students and volunteers have been matched and are connecting weekly. “I would like to be able to find support for all students who need academic help,” said Dr. Holland.
All of those involved in the Homework Helper program agree that it is a win-win situation for the students, the teachers, and the volunteers.
“Connecting diverse generations together is very rewarding, and I believe all participants are benefiting from the time shared together,” said Dr. Amory.
“I want to support them (students and teachers) in any way I can,” said Dr. Holland. “In doing so, I know we will all be the beneficiaries.”
Anyone interested in helping students K-12 with assignments and schoolwork can apply on Read Aloud Delaware’s website to be a volunteer and specify Homework Helper.