SHEFFIELD VILLAGE – On Tuesdays at 9 a.m. sharp, seventh-grade students at Sheffield-Sheffield Lake's Brookside Middle School return to the intermediate school they left last spring. They cluster outside the classroom door of third-grade teacher Kim Pajor, where a group of her students is already awaiting their arrival. It's BIS READING DAY, and Brookside Middle School teacher Jen Bishop creates small groups consisting of an older kid with one or two younger kids and hands them stories to read back and forth to each other for the next 25 minutes.

Bishop said the goal is to help third-graders become more fluent in reading, accomplished by listening as the older student reads a story aloud to them. Then they read it back to their older mentor. Pajor and Bishop added that the exercise expands vocabulary and builds comprehension skills as well.

Younger students are not the only beneficiaries of the initiative, now in its third week. Bishop said her students' confidence increases as they mentor younger children. That is significant, she noted, because they have just transitioned from intermediate to middle school. Studies have determined this transition can be challenging for many. "There are not many opportunities for my kiddos to be mentors to others, or in leadership roles, so I felt that this would be a chance for them to 'shine' and be important," she said.

Bishop acknowledges she hatched the idea. "My son is in Kim Pajor's class, and knowing how much he enjoys being read to, I contacted her and asked if she would be willing to have my students read to hers. She was all for it and our schedules matched up perfectly.”

Bishop said her students prepare by reading ahead of time the stories they will read to third- graders. Initially her students were nervous, she said, but now they look forward to it. One happily told her how much a student’s reading seemed improved over the preceding week, she said.

Seventh-grader Brandon Luke said, "I get to help people, which I always like to do." He was reading "My Little Brother" to Cherish Anderson. A short time later, he listened carefully as she read the story back to him. Andrew Slaby read “The Trip” to two younger children while Mary Parker worked on “Where Are the Butterflies At?” Cylie Villa and Clinton Kral sat on the floor alternately reading stories to other children.

Pajor said her students are excited about the experience. "Students are building confidence as readers and are building friendships as well." She said she has noticed, in this short time, that some of her students are more willing to speak out in small groups, knowing it's OK to make a mistake.

Her students participate in BIS READING SAY every other week so that fellow third-grade teacher Debbie Blythe's class can also participate.

On Fridays, Bishop has three eighth-grade students read back and forth to teacher Rachel Feimer's fourth-graders. The volunteers are Seth Toth, Allison Smith and Devin Radford.

Emily Adkins, current middle school principal and assistant principal last year at the intermediate school, sees benefits for both sides. "The third-graders get extra attention from older students, which helps them academically and socially and the seventh- and eighth- graders get to take on a leadership role,” Adkins said. “They are also getting extra practice in reading, but they do not even realize it! This is great for their self-confidence."

Adkins says middle school staff works on being good role models and mentors to younger students, adding that Bishop's initiative follows that vision.

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