David Ogle remembers when he didn’t like to read as a youngster, but now the retiree is helping today’s student become enthusiastic about books.

When “Mr. Dave” arrives to volunteer at Porter Elementary School, students ask if they can read with him.

About five years ago Mary Jane Jones, longtime leader of the reading mentors program for Blount County Schools, approached Ogle about volunteering. “That was just the nudge I needed,” he said.

Today the new program leader, Linda Carraway, hopes to nudge some more adults to spend about an hour a week reading with students.

“We need more volunteers,” she said. “My mission is to get volunteers in every school.”

The positions in the outlying areas of the county are harder to fill, but she said, “I can use mentors anywhere.” The principal at Carpenters Elementary School is hoping to add an after-school program with reading mentors too.

Between the time Jones died this past summer and Carraway came on board, Ogle took it upon himself to reach out to another school, Walland Elementary. He had never been to the school, just seen the sign driving down U.S. 321 and went in to offer his help.

Now in addition to reading with second graders and to Head Start students at Porter one day a week, Ogle’s reading with third-graders at Walland.

“I got promoted,” he said with a laugh.

Ogle had a 30-year career in human resources with DENSO and thinks it’s obvious later in life who didn’t start with a solid foundation in reading. Educators know that reading well is vital for academic success across subjects.

Ogle also recognizes that in many homes there may not be a lot of time for parents or grandparents to read with youngsters, and he can add to the attention students receive from teachers.

Throughout the year, he said, “I can see that they’re progressing.”

A visitor at school adds some excitement for students too. Ogle still remembers a substitute teacher reading to his class about the Lilliputians. “I was just enthralled,” he said.

Carraway provides about an hour of training to new mentors and sees their role not only as supporting reading but also showing students a positive adult role model, someone who cares enough about their success to spend that time each week coming to their school.

No experience is required. “They just need to have a love of kids,” Carraway said. “It’s not how much you know; it’s how much you care.”

Kiwanis and church groups have been among the biggest supporters of the reading program.

Teachers work differently with the mentors. For example, at Porter the teacher gives Ogle a packet of books with different reading levels for the students, while most recently at Walland all of the students were reading from the same book.

When Ogle discovered the book included words such as “phosphorescent,” he thought it would be a good challenge for the young readers. “I was impressed,” he said.

Looking back on at least four years of being a reading mentor, “the kids have been great,” Ogle said. “I’m not so sure that I’m not getting more out of it than they are.”

To learn more about becoming a reading mentor for Blount County Schools, call Carraway at 984-1212, extension 54-2267.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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