Volunteers in Lead to Read program take lunch hour to share a love of learning

Lead to Read volunteer Lynn Carlton and her reading buddy Shamarian crack open “Charlotte's Web” at Wendell Phillips Elementary School, 1619 E. 24th Terrace in Kansas City.
Lead to Read volunteer Lynn Carlton and her reading buddy Shamarian crack open “Charlotte's Web” at Wendell Phillips Elementary School, 1619 E. 24th Terrace in Kansas City. Hale Center for Journalism

Every Tuesday during her lunch hour, Lynn Carlton has a standing appointment with a first-grader at Wendell Phillips Elementary in Kansas City.

In addition to her job as an urban planner at HOK, Carlton is a volunteer with the Lead to Read program. On each visit, Carlton takes 30 minutes to work with her reading buddy Shamarian.

Greeting each other with a big hug, Carlton and Shamarian dive into a picture book. Shamarian carefully places her finger under each word as she reads.

“She’s come a long way,” Carlton said later. “In the beginning of the year, she was a little slower, didn’t quite understand punctuation or questions marks, but now she is really a lot better, and she has started sounding out a lot of the words by herself.”

The progress that Shamarian has made this school year is exactly what husband-and-wife team Lynn and Jean Rundle hoped for when they started Lead to Read in 2011.

Beginning with just 30 friends that they recruited to read with fourth-graders at Whittier Elementary in Kansas City, Kan., Lead to Read now has about 300 volunteers working with students in five schools, including one in Manhattan, Kan.

Lynn Rundle said that in one first-grade classroom with Lead to Read volunteers, students began the year at a pre-kindergarten reading level and by the end of the year were reading on grade level.

“When you see that sort of marked improvement, you know that that trusting adult gives them the confidence to become a better reader,” he said.

Classrooms with Lead to Read volunteers not only have seen improvements in students’ reading abilities, but also changes in how they view reading.

“With many of our children, they may not have a lot of consistency in their lives,” said Deloris Brown, who is the principal at Wendell Phillips Elementary, 1619 E. 24th Terrace. The school has had the program for three years.

“The relationships that they are building, and that sense of consistency that you have the same person there each week to work with me and read with me … Our boys and girls don’t see that as a task, they see it as fun.”

Reading for 30 minutes with an elementary school student also is a rewarding change of pace for volunteers. Becky West is an account executive at Lockton, and for the second year in a row she spends her Wednesday lunch hour at Hope Leadership Academy. Her reading buddy this year is Jenia.

“She will need to know how to read with whatever she decides to do with her life, and I am just glad to be a part of that,” West said.

Rundle said the ultimate goal is to match every first-, second- and third-grader in the urban core with a Lead to Read volunteer.

“Our goal is 5,000 readers. We just need that massive engagement for people to say, ‘Count me in,’” Rundle said.

Lynn and Jean Rundle made a 10-year plan to reach their goal, but in March 2014, Jean Rundle died after a long battle with congestive heart failure.

“That wasn’t important to her to leave a mark, she just lived and left a mark,” her husband said. “We were reading one-on-one with kids in the library and there wasn’t enough Jean to go around, so we needed more Jeans.”

Jean Rundle’s vision and compassion lives on through dedicated volunteers like Carlton, who just finished her third year with Lead to Read. She said she comes back because of the impact she knows she’s making.

After finishing their picture book, Carlton smiles at Shamarian and says that she thinks they need something harder.

The girl grabs a copy of “Charlotte’s Web” and opens the book to Chapter 1.

KCPT’s Hale Center for Journalism is an open-source forum producing stories and conversations about Kansas City issues.

The details

For more information about volunteering or donating to Lead to Read, go to LeadToReadKC.org.