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Sheepshead Bay school’s Reading Mentors program builds young readers — and ‘teachers’
New York Teacher
Literacy coach Ali Giordano with 1st-grader Jason (yellow shirt) surrounded by m
Kindergartner Mellina learns under the tutelage of 5th-grader Stephanie.
Their shy-yet-proud smiles say it all: Kindergartner Madina (right) with 5th-gra

Nestled close to his 5th-grade mentor Timothy, 1st-grader Noah concentrates hard as he sounds out the words in his book, “Blackbird’s Nest.”

The pair is among a large group of students camped out in the clean and well-waxed hallways of PS/IS 206 in Sheepshead Bay, part of the school’s Reading Mentors program.

The buzzing sound of voices fills the air, “but it’s a good loud because they’re reading,” said literacy coach Ali Giordano, the 20-year veteran teacher who started the program at the school many years ago, when it was funded by a UFT mini-grant and called Reading Buddies.

She’s since formalized her approach, with handouts for the mentors giving them tips for helping their younger charges to read, a sign-up sheet for participants and a commitment that students will be there for two sessions a week — giving up recess no matter how beautiful it is outside — from mid-October through the spring.

Giordano has seen the program double in size from 40 to 80 students in just over two years. Both the younger students — kindergartners through 2nd-graders — and their 5th-grade-through-8th-grade mentors find it appealing.

The younger children love to spend time with and learn from the older children. “They have this glow on their faces when they see their mentors,” she said.

And the 5th-graders take pride in their role helping the younger students improve their reading and writing skills. Some even bring pencils and other small gifts to give their reading partners.

“It gives the older kids a sense of empowerment and a sense that they’re helping,” Giordano said. “I wonder if I’m creating some teachers — I hope so. That would be great!”

Alan Abrams, who teaches at the school and is the UFT District 22 representative, said Giordano inspires by example. “She’s an amazing teacher,” he said. “She sparks all the teachers to want to teach.”

Principal Deirdre Keyes affirms the popularity of Giordano’s program. “Students tell me that they can’t wait to get to 5th grade so they can become reading mentors, too,” she said. Reading scores at the school have improved as well.

Want to set up a Reading Mentors program at your school? View Giordano’s materials as a model at www.uft.org/reading-mentors.