The Valley Grange Bookworm Program began in 2007 as an outgrowth of their long standing Words for Thirds Dictionary Program. Program Director Walter Boomsma explains, “We had so much fun with the kids during our dictionary programs we wanted more time with them.” At the time, the Grange was visiting Guilford Primary School where grades two and three were located. Working with then Principal Julie Orton, they came up with what was dubbed the Valley Grange Bookworm Program. Volunteer Grange Members began visiting the school twice a week to spend time with reading with the students. “Initially, we were thinking we’d read to the kids,” Boomsma explains. “But in discussing ideas with the teachers and principal it occurred to us that having the kids read to us made even more sense and after nearly a decade we’re even more convinced we did the right thing. For one thing, the kids feel like they ‘own’ the program and they take the decision of what they’re going to read to us very seriously.”
At the conclusion of this year’s program, the Guilford-based Grange received a packet of thank you notes from some of the students who’ve benefited. These notes prove the value of the program. Some examples of notes written by second graders:
“Thank you for listening to me read this year. You help me become a better reader. It was fun reading with you!”
“Thank you for listening to me read this year. I hope you had fun!”
“Thank you for listening to me read this year. I like it when you make me a better reader. I love when I can read to all of you Grange readers.”
“Thank you for listening to me read this year. You helped me read long words. I really like reading with you.”
“Than you for listening to me read this year. I love reading books and magazines with you. I became a better reader because of you.”
“Thank you for listening to me read this year! I appreciate all the things you’ve done for all of us. You made me prove that now I have better reading skills than I did at the beginning of this year.”
Boomsma enthusiastically recommends the program to other Granges. “It’s one of our easiest community service programs to maintain. It requires very little structure and there’s absolutely no cost. Our Community Service Chair Mary Annis sets up a monthly schedule and the school assigns us to classrooms when we arrive. We’ve actually developed quite a partnership with the school and kids who help us by bringing ‘Coups for Troops to school.”
Admitting there can be some challenges at the beginning in setting up the structure of the progrm, he’s willing to work with and assist any Grange interested in starting a similar program. “Valley Grange has always had a preference for community service work that puts our ‘boots on the ground’ directly benefiting our fellow citizens regardless of age. The rewards are huge.” Additional information about the Bookworm Program, including frequently asked questions, is available on the Valley Grange Website.
In addition to Dictionary Day (third grade) and “bookworming” (second and third grades) Valley Grange sponsors an annual “Newspapers in Education” Project (third and fourth grades) and continues to promote agricultural literacy with special projects (kindergarten through grade three) as part of their “GrowME” collaboration.