Love of Reading Shared Virtually Across Generations
Reading Brings Together Mockingbird Second-Grade Students and Senior Honors Society Members from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Earlier this fall, Ralston High School 2017 alumnae Elizabeth Byrnes and her fellow Mortar Board members at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln were trying to figure out how to keep their Reading is Leading philanthropy program going during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program involves its members going into an elementary school and reading to students throughout a semester. The elementary school the UNL group usually had worked with had said that due to health and safety restrictions, the school would not be able to have outside guests come into the school.
The UNL Mortar Board, an honors society for senior collegiate students, didn’t want to give up and were looking for different options. That was when Elizabeth thought of Ms. Yost at Mockingbird Elementary. “Ralston will always hold a special place in my heart because of the constant support and encouragement I️ received from my previous teachers and mentors, Ms. Yost especially being one of them,” said Byrnes.
So, Elizabeth pitched the idea to her Mortar Board group to think beyond just elementary schools in Lincoln to partner with the Reading is Leading program. The group reached out to Ms. Yost, told her about the philanthropy program, and asked if the college students could videotape themselves reading books that she could then show her students. Ms. Yost loved the idea but took it one step further and asked the UNL students to Zoom into her classroom and spend time reading books and also listening to her students reading books to the college students. The answer was overwhelming, YES!
“My students have loved hanging out with college students!” said Yost. “This has allowed them to share their love of reading with a 'big kid' and have their full attention. Having a captive audience has been great for all of my kids, and I also love that I am planting the seeds of attending college in my students!”
Lauren Mott, Philanthropy Chair of the UNL Mortar Board Chapter, put out the request to all 28 of the organization’s members, asking them to sign up for a time during the week to read with the Mockingbird second-grade students. During these scheduled times, the college students and elementary students would read books to each other. After reading, they would hang out and visit with one another. “We want to make sure students have someone to share the joy of reading with them; someone to read to them and someone for them to read too,” said Mott. “We have had so much fun interacting and building connections with the second-grade students.”
Another aspect of this new partnership that excited Elizabeth is that her fellow Mortar Board members could experience what it is like to be part of the Ram Family. “I️ truly love being a part of the Ralston community and take great pride in telling people where I️ am from,” said Byrnes. “I️ am excited for my fellow Mortar Board members to get a taste of what it's like to be a part of my community and leave their special mark.
What type of impact has this program had on the second-grade students at Mockingbird? “I believe the Mortar Board Reading is Leading group has inspired my students to think about college and want to be readers,” said Ms. Yost. “Second graders are magical. They love to show off their skills, and being able to do so on a computer Zoom call makes it even more fun.”
Ms. Yost also thinks this program has had quite an impact on the college students. “It has allowed them to feel the love and adoration of being looked up to by a future generation of readers,” said Ms. Yost. “Our very first Mortar Board volunteer was Cameron. Neither of us had any idea what to expect from this experience. I handed my computer over to a couple of my boys and had them meet with Cameron and read him a book.” said Yost. “They spent over half an hour hanging out with him and reading, laughing, and talking to him.”
Lauren agrees with Ms. Yost. “I think the connection we have built with these students is really important,” said Mott. “It shows us the importance of giving back to our community. This experience has also provided us a glimmer of hope this year. It was great to be able to do something amazing like this!”
Everyone involved would probably agree, reading to someone may be just a simple act of service, but it can have a profound effect on the lives of others. “I know I️ am personally honored Ms. Yost would let us work with her students,” said Byrnes. “I also know my fellow Mortar Board members are just as honored to have the opportunity to make the students’ day brighter.”