The Story of Benji: Benji is a pretty good reader. He’s seven attending first-grade classes at Dora Kennedy French Language Immersion School in Greenbelt, Md.  Like many children in the county – and the country – he is attending those classes at home.

Children at immersion schools or who are learning English as their second language often have to work a little harder to keep up with their reading skills even under normal conditions, because they are learning two sets in both languages. This expected hindrance has been exacerbated by distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Knowing and seeing that, Benji’s mother Jaunae said she signed Benji up for BookNook tutoring through Prince George’s County Public Schools PGCPS READS program, “The first day I got the email.” “BookNook, they say it’s about improving reading skills not teaching skills,” Jaunae said, “But he surprises me now that he knows certain words and BookNook is helping him break down the words into prefixes and suffixes.” 

She said Benji is clearly “learning things”, his understanding of syllables and rhyming has greatly improved and that daily he is able to pick out and read words she “wouldn’t expect from a first grader.” “We are still working on inflection and pauses,” Jaunae said. “But they are teaching comprehension skills too and I didn’t realize that.”

The Story of Bradley: In another part of Prince George’s County, Dalia, mother to 5-year-old Bradley, said she was also surprised with the speed of her son’s reading growth working with BookNook only two days a week. He moved up several reading levels in school since he began tutoring in November.

“Bradley is a beginner. He barely knew his letters, ” Dalia said. Heading into first grade at Greenbelt Elementary School school next year, she was worried that with the distance learning Bradley would fall behind.  

“He knew some sounds but he didn’t have any recognition of those sounds to the letters really … now he knows almost all of his letters and the sounds,” Dalia said.  And she said his tutoring is now in line with and reinforcing his daily classwork.  “Anytime he has tutoring on Monday or Wednesday, I see the next day he is a little more confident in his school’s virtual classes,” she said.  

But what is keeping the boys interested is the sense of community across schools that they are building in their pods. It is perhaps the aspect both parents said is what is driving their child’s interest.  Both boys are in virtual pods with children from other Prince George’s County Public Elementary schools.

Benji has three other children in his BookNook pod, Jaunae said, adding, “ His favorite part is talking to the other kids about what happened in the books they read and talking to them about their schools and their neighborhoods, and it’s like he has a whole new set of friends.”

“So, I found it rewarding that all the kids are from the same county,” Dalia said.  “He looks forward to seeing different faces and that’s what gets him excited to come to the sessions.”

The Results: Both boys’ growth has led to both an increase in reading comprehension, confidence, ability and interest.  Jaunae says Benji now reads to himself more and asks more questions when they read together.  “And his confidence is much higher than it was  … much higher.”

Bradley can now find and open the BookNook App and get into his pod on his own, and is able to identify more than pictures. “I can see easily how much they are reading and how much they are growing,” said Dalia. “He basically started from zero and has moved up tremendously, in what has basically been two months,”  She said, adding, “when you include the breaks holidays.” 

Bradley’s sessions are Mondays and Wednesdays and I remember on ‘M.L.K.’ Monday he was crushed that he didn’t have BookNook twice that week.”

Results like this truly take a village. It starts with determined students, eager to learn, aided by thousands of parents, tutors, caregivers, educators, paraprofessionals, AmeriCorps members, and volunteers.

To date, BookNook is now in 34 states with new city and district-wide partnerships blossoming every week, from urban non-profit coalitions in Detroit, MI, to coastal schools across California, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, and Maryland.

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