Learning to Love Reading
The purpose of the Missions & Outreach Ministry at Crossings is to train and equip ordinary people to go and do extraordinary things in the name of Jesus so that all might see, hear and experience God’s love in tangible ways. Crossings volunteers are doing just that at Eugene Field Elementary, where students and teachers alike are feeling the love of Jesus on a daily basis. It all started in 2004 when Crossings began what would become an annual clean-up day at Eugene Field. Crossings volunteers helped clean, paint, organize and prepare the school to start a new year. The relationship with the school has since grown to the point that Crossings volunteers are now in the school each day as teacher partners and reading assessors, and they help organize an annual Christmas backpack giveaway and participate in Literacy Night, an event designed to create an interest in reading for students and their parents.
The Crossings Book Club, which has seen a 200 percent increase in volunteers, enables the volunteers to read to groups and individuals in a more relaxed, personal setting. Last year, the Book Club helped 32 students improve their reading proficiency and comprehension. This year, 63 kids are involved in Book Club, and plans are in place to expand the program to reach even more children. “It’s not our goal to teach,” said Ginger Johnson, a volunteer who is credited with helping to pioneer and lead the Book Club. “The teachers at Eugene Field do a marvelous job of teaching. Our goal is to help the kids learn to enjoy reading and learn to have a love of reading. It’s thrilling, and it’s fun. Our little part of the partnership is to try to instill a love of reading.”
As a result of Book Club, the school has seen an increased interest in reading among its students, as well as improved reading scores. “Most of our first graders improved at least a year, if not a year-and-a-half, in their reading level,” said Principal Paige Bressman. “Having that one-on-one time and small group time with someone other than their teacher has really helped our students. Each of our second graders give up one recess each week to participate in the Book Club, and nobody complains. They want to go to Book Club. They want to read the story and to get that book, and they love spending time in the reading rooms with the volunteers.”
Feeling God’s Love
The Crossings volunteers enjoy Book Club as well – 21 volunteers are currently involved. The group includes volunteers of all ages, from grandparents and retired teachers to college students. Regardless of age, Johnson says all the volunteers receive a heart-warming experience from reading to the children. “I am so full when I come down the stairs after being with these kids,” said Johnson. “It’s great when the kids see us in the hallway, and their eyes light up. The fact that children get excited about reading means so much…If we can engage the kids and their family and help to create an environment that values reading, and makes reading a part of the DNA of this school, then we feel like we have really had a great investment in the future of these students.”
Two years ago, Johnson led a group of Crossings volunteers who met with a group of Eugene Field teachers and administrators to discuss additional ways Crossings could help in the school. The teachers and administrators expressed concerns about reading, as the majority of students speak English as a second language. And many of the Eugene Field parents can’t read to their children in English. From this meeting, Book Club was born. “Last year, Eugene Field retained only three students for reading deficiencies,” said Pam Millington, Pastor of Missions & Outreach Ministries at Crossings. “The year before Book Club, eleven students were retained. That improvement in reading has been specifically attributed to the success of Book Club.”
But Millington says Crossings’ relationship with the school is about much more than reading. It’s about allowing those in the school to see, hear and experience God’s love in tangible ways. The Eugene Field volunteers chose Matthew 5:14-16 as their inspirational passage: ‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden… let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’ “We want people to understand that our church has volunteers who are shining the light of Jesus every single day in that school,” said Millington. “Each year our relationship continues to grow and get deeper. It went from being a once-a-year campus clean-up effort to now, where we have people in the school every single day. We really do life together with the teachers and the students at Eugene Field.”
Being His Light
For Johnson, a longtime Crossings member who once served as Director of the Nursery Ministry, Book Club has become a passion. “Crossings makes it so easy to find your niche or area of passion,” she said. “We have such a strong Volunteer Ministry. A few years ago, I was looking for a new area to serve and through the Missions Ministry, I got involved as a teacher partner. I did that for one year, and I ended up working with one little sixth grader on her reading. My heart just broke because she was just really struggling with her reading. But I realized then just how vital reading is. In a broader sense, I think we are all called to serve,” added Johnson. “We don’t preach the gospel here in the school with our mouths, but Christ tells us ‘you will know that they are My disciples by the love they show each other,’ and that’s just what we feel here . . . we are the light in the community. We are the city on the hill. We can take Jesus with us in all kinds of places.”
Bressman has also seen that Crossings’ impact in her school has reached far beyond reading scores. “We don’t go a day without having Crossings volunteers in this building. The volunteers allow the kids to see that people outside of this building care about them. It allows them to see that people outside of this building are willing to help them – they are not alone, and it may not be as bad as they think some mornings when they come to school. Because when the kids get to school each morning, there are always smiles in the hallways for them. I think the volunteers get as much out of it as the kids do. The teachers love it. The kids love it. The volunteers love it. I don’t know that we would know how to function if we didn’t have Crossings volunteers in the building because they just do so many wonderful things for us.”
It’s just ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the name of Jesus.
“Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things” originally published by John McLemore, Crossings Volunteer Writing Team Member