Sr. Catherine and the Joy of Reading!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Thank you to Michael de la Peña and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for this wonderful article on the Third Day Reading Program that the Assumption Sisters in Worcester, MA run.  We reprint the article in full here.  Thank you, Sr. Catherine Soley, RA, our AMA Elliot Simmons-Uvin, and all the volunteers and children who make the program so special!

Reading Program Matches Young Readers with College Students
By Michael de la Peña Special to the Telegram & Gazette

WORCESTER - Scattered throughout the room in St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Main Street sit a group of college students and children, all reading books. As time passes during the afternoon, more elementary schoolers dash into the room, grab one of many books piled on two long foldable tables, and find an empty spot on a couch or rug.

Some rush to one of the college students with the book they've chosen, and they begin quietly reading it aloud to each other.

The Third Day is an after-school reading program offered to Worcester students from ages 6 to 12 and run by St. Peter’s and the Religious of The Assumption in Worcester. The youngsters learning to read better and the collegiate volunteers helping them gather weekly at 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

The program is completing its third year, with the aim of improving literacy among young children.

“The goal is to communicate a love of reading and the joy of reading. That reading can entertain, it can amuse, it can educate, and it can be an escape mechanism in a healthy way,” says Sister Catherine Soley who founded Third Day (which was so named because St. Peter’s already had scheduled two days of the week for college volunteers to mentor young students, but not necessarily in reading).

“The Third Day program came out of my experience in our mentoring after-school program, where I saw kids who were in fifth or sixth grade and having a lot of trouble making the step into reading chapter books,” Sister Catherine said. “It’s basically trying to keep the kids engaged in some way, for as much time as possible, in some aspect of reading.”  

Most of the kids who attend the program come from schools in Main South such as Goddard Elementary, Woodland Academy and St. Peter Central Catholic Schools. When kids show up, they find tables with roughly 60 books, which vary with Sister Catherine’s weekly trips to the Worcester Public Library.  

There is iconic children’s literature, including "The Cat in the Hat," "Green Eggs and Ham," and "Monsters University" for the youngest readers. Students in the higher elementary grades often choose the multicultural children’s novel "Seedfolks" and the mystery story "Hole."  

Otherwise, Sister Catherine said, she takes her cue from the students’ interests and works hard at finding books neither too easy nor too challenging.  

“That’s probably the hardest part, but also kind of enjoyable,” said Elliot Simons-Uvin, an Assumption Mission Associate who helps run the program. “You’re trying to pick out books for certain kids’ reading levels and when you see them grab the book you picked out you’re like ‘Whoa, I did that’.”  

After an hour, Sister Catherine claps three times and gets everyone's attention. The elementary and college students gather together for snacks and listen to a picture book read aloud by Joanne Owens, a former teacher from Holden who helps run the program.  

“It's a place for these youngsters to come after school. And we want to make it fun, not make it a chore,” Ms. Owens said. “We don't want to make them think reading is a burden because it is difficult for some of them.”  

Once children finish listening to Ms. Owens read aloud, they break into groups according to their reading levels and read together with the volunteers. Often near the end of the two hours, the volunteers break out word games to play with the children.  

What helps keep the program going are these college student volunteers. The program works with Clark University, Assumption College, and the College of the Holy Cross to find volunteers, and the schools often have courses that require some sort of service work in the community. Roughly 20 volunteers show up regularly, enough to mentor every elementary counterpart one-on-one.  

“Sister Catherine actually came in and talked in one of my classes about volunteering,” said Osiris Garcia, a sophomore from Holy Cross. “It’s definitely been a learning experience for both the students and myself because I’d never really volunteered directly with kids before. Learning to work with kids with different reading levels is challenging.”
“It’s just two hours on that one day, but those two hours will probably go a long way,” said Mr. Simons-Uvin.  

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