Don’t hibernate — Be a BEAR Mentor

by | Jun 8, 2015 | Other News

Sixty-six earth year trips around our sun, travelling at the velocity of about 18.5 miles per second, constitutes the official age of retirement in the United States. By this time, most people are quite aware of the toll such a journey has on one’s body. It can be a blessing to be reminded that one’s life cycle is fleeting. There is important work to be done.

Shrugging off the aches and pains associated with their seasoned planetary travel, local concerned citizens—many retired educators— all volunteers for the Marilyn and Marvin Simon Family JCC’s BEAR (BE A Reader) Program, for the last 15 years, have made their way to local elementary schools in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake to help children read—one child at a time.

According to the Nation’s Report Card, published by the National Center for Educational Statistics to inform the public about academic achievement of elementary and secondary students in the U.S. in mathematics and reading, 34% of the nation’s public school students performed at or above proficient in reading on 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test at both fourth and eighth grade. The data in this report provides a breakdown according to each state/jurisdiction, each gender and each ethnic and socio-economic group. The statistics of the 2013 trend analysis for race/ethnic groups are staggering: Asian/Pacific Islander students hold the lead with 52% reading at or above proficient at fourth and eighth grade, White students, 46%, Hispanic students, 21%, Black students, 17% and American Indian/ Alaska Native students, 17%. Virginia ranked higher than the national average overall at 43% performing at or above proficient in reading, but only in fourth grade. By eighth grade, the children had slipped closer in line with the national average with only a slight lead at 36%. The overall national statistics are sobering: 66% of U.S. public school students are reading below proficient—not at grade level—by the time they are ready for high school. Among students from low-income backgrounds, this percentage falls closer to 80%.

The Simon Family JCC BEAR Program was formed 15 years ago by Betsy Karotkin, Gail Flax, Ronnie Jane Konikoff and Frances Birshtein to help students in first through third grades acquire the reading skills to lead successful academic and productive lives. This year, 16 volunteers of the BEAR Program at Newtown Elementary received recognition from the VBCPS for their 14 years of dedicated service to the Bayside Tri-Campus and their community. By reading with second graders once a week, enhancing their reading skills and acting as important mentors, these Newtown volunteers honored the JCC’s BEAR Program and received a VBCPS Model Partnership Award on the program’s behalf. The ceremony was held at Kellam High School on April 30, with hundreds in attendance. Dr. Aaron Spence, VBCPS Superintendent the presented the awards.

Established in 2000-2001, by the VBCPS Partnership Advisory Link (PAL) this award annually acknowledges meaningful community involvement and other organizational partnerships within the VBCPS school districts. This year, 14 Model Partnerships were chosen out of 86 nominations.

Vicki Corneille, a 12-year BEAR volunteer and Newtown’s Monday Team Captain says, “It is important to help children learn to enjoy reading. Seeing the joy on their faces when they are given books for their own personal library—is priceless!”

Rita Frank, a retired professor of Wesleyan College and Newtown BEAR volunteer describes her experience with her student, “He didn’t have a lot of confidence about his reading, he told me in the very first session that he really wanted to read a chapter book and just last week he completed his first chapter book. It was just a most amazing feeling—he sees himself as a reader!”

A BEAR mentorship can offer the children, identified by their reading specialist or teachers as reading below grade level, the extra support they need. “The partnership is mutually beneficial,” explains Celia Friedman, Newtown’s co-captain. “It is very rewarding. When you leave, it is with a satisfaction about what you did for that child that day.”

This year, out of the hundreds of thousands of students attending K-12 grades, only 70 elementary students were greeted by a Simon Family JCC BEAR mentor. Gail Flax, a dedicated educator and 15-year BEAR volunteer for Birdneck Elementary School says, “We need more people who care and who will support the BEAR Program. It is not acceptable that so many children in this country are living at poverty levels, many without stable home environments that can support learning. These kids deserve a chance.”

For more information about becoming a sponsor for the BEAR Program contact Evan Levitt at 757-321-2337. To be a BEAR mentor next school year, call 757-321-2304.

by Sherri Wisoff