March 17, 2015

Volunteer of the Month: Q&A with Sabrina Jordan

Sabrina and Isabelle

Sabrina and Isabelle

Sabrina Jordan started reading with Everybody Wins! in Connecticut eight years ago and has been volunteering with Read Ahead for the past two years through her employer, Morgan Stanley. This is her second year reading with Isabelle at P.S. 212: Midtown West Elementary, where she has enjoyed watching Isabelle come out of her shell as they share books and conversations each week.

Did you have someone who read to you as a child?
Absolutely—my mom was a second grade school teacher, so I grew up with reading as a big part of my life. It was always fun and never viewed as punishment in our house. For my family, reading was more like game-playing—we’d memorize passages from literature, famous speeches, and songs even, then act out characters and dress up or down accordingly. As a child, it is a special thrill to see your parents in full costume, reciting silly or serious poems, stories, etc. I grew up in a home filled with books and was encouraged to read any and everything I wanted.

What was it like to start working with Isabelle?
This is my second year reading with Isabelle, and I’m so glad we were paired up again this year, because working with her has been an absolute pleasure. When I first started with Read Ahead, I was told that Isabelle was very shy, and quite frankly, she definitely seemed that way. One thing that helped was to try to figure out Isabelle’s interests. The “Getting to Know You” worksheet on the first day really helped as an icebreaker. It was a great way to sit and listen, learn, and tap into Isabelle’s likes and dislikes.

How has she changed since you first started reading together?
It has been a pleasure watching her grow. An absolute joy! When we first started, you could barely hear Isabelle when she spoke or read aloud. So, I started encouraging her to talk toward the back of the room—where her audience could hear her—and she totally got it. Now, when Isabelle comes into the room, that shyness just isn’t there. I’ll start by reading a paragraph or two, but then Isabelle will want to read, so we’ll switch. And she pretty much takes over from there. Her reading voice has become louder, more clear, and with great inflection. For some reason, Isabelle loves to read sentences with exclamation points in them. Just adorable.

Another change I’ve seen in her… we recently got to a word that she didn’t know—“bury”—and Isabelle sounded it out until she got it just right, and then we talked about the difference between “bury” and “berry” and it was so gratifying to watch Isabelle take a leap and not be afraid to not know something. I can tell she’s just so engaged and interested during the time we spend together.

Are there any strategies you use during your time together?
There are a few ways I work around the occasional times when she seems distracted. Sometimes we play word games, where if we come upon a fun word in a book, we’ll do a word tree and race each other. We’ll also sometimes stand and stretch together or march in place when we need a break, or go look out the window and then write a few sentences about what we saw. Sometimes, we stray and just create our own stories.

What books have you read together that have been particularly successful?
Initially, Isabelle only wanted to read princess books, but thankfully we got through that stage. Then, we started reading some Dr. Seuss books—she was a little beyond those in her reading level, but it really built her confidence. When a child reads something they’re good at, they get more confident and then they’re more willing to try more challenging books, chapter books. After every book we read, we rate it and discuss our favorite parts—lately she’s been giving the books four stars, or sometimes even adding a star!

We read together on Fridays—it’s such a nice thing to look forward to, to get through the work week. I very much cherish my reading hour with Isabelle. She is truly a joy!