Readers Are Leaders

With all important learning experiences, there are significant results that cannot be quantified—those priceless intangibles that may include a sense of belonging, friendship, confidence, joy, reward, growth, pride, accomplishment, etc. To provide some small sense of these, we have included a handful of observations of a few who have been a part of our program or witnessed it firsthand.



“I like the part when our buddies came from across the street because they helped me read and sound out words and that made me happy. I love Readers Are Leaders.” - Marwa, Hayfield Elementary

“I like when we were able to pick 6 books because we can read to our family.” - Evan, Hayfield Elementary

“He helped me read some words I didn't know and he told me to try. He would read to me. He would tell me to read more at home, so I would read to my dad. He helped me read books! We ate pizza!” - 2nd grader, Hutchison Elementary

“I liked the books they had to give us because I had never read them before. I enjoyed reading with my buddy and I miss reading with him.” - 3rd grader, London Towne Elementary

“When I read with my partner he helped me a lot about the books. My favorite thing in Readers Are Leaders is when I read my books with my partner he tells me what most of the parts are about the story. I love Readers Are Leaders because it is very fun and it helps me alot.” - Joshua, 4th grader, Old Bridge Elementary

“I got to read with my buddy and read interesting books. Some of the books were challenging, but my buddy showed me that they were good books, so I enjoyed them.” - 5th grader, London Town Elementary

“For me personally the Readers Are Leaders program has helped me a little, a few weeks ago I read books lower than my reading level. Now I'm willing to read books higher than my reading level. When I started Readers Are Leaders I still liked to read so I was kind of happy, now I love to read!” - Gaby, 5th grader, Old Bridge Elementary

“This program was a really good experience. It taught me the importance of reading. My favorite part about the program was going to a baseball game. It felt like a prize I earned or something like that. I learned that life is going to get harder as I grow from what I saw of my partner. It certainly did change my goals. Overall I do wish I can get into this program (next year) it taught me so much.” - Edgar, 5th grader, Old Bridge Elementary

“The Readers Are Leaders program was a great program. It was a great program because we got to spend time with athletes and read books with them. One of my favorite things was that we got to choose our books. We did not get a book chosen for us. One thing that surprised me was that we were reading with the athletes, not with book brainiacs. I thought we would be reading all the same books with people who'd rather keep their noses in books than outside. It was fun reading different books with athletes. It was surprising but not that much.” - Bhupinder, 5th grader, Old Bridge Elementary

“My favorite thing about the program was that I read funny books and I liked it. I learned how to read fast and read the words correctly. I was surprised because I first thought that it would be boring, but it was very fun.” - 6th grader, Hutchison Elementary


“My name is Aren Durana and I play basketball for South Lakes High School. I am currently a sophomore and have played basketball both years. Along with having a great basketball program every year all of the players participate in a great program called Readers Are Leaders. Through this program we get to go to local elementary schools and help the students there with their reading. My personal experience with the program has been really rewarding. It gives me an opportunity to give back to the community that I might not otherwise have. To be able to give the kids a role model like I looked up to so much as a kid is a really rewarding experience.” - Aren Durana, South Lakes High School, Basketball Player

“My favorite part of this experience was being able to help young students become better readers and learn social skills. I grew as a part of this experience by learning how to organize my time between school, practice and helping the young kids. The most valuable part of this experience for me was being able to give back to my community. Overall, it was a positive experience.” - Yorktown High School, Basketball Player

“The Readers Are Leaders program had a positive effect on me. Working with young children and helping them learn new things in their life is something that I like doing. My favorite thing about the program was spending time with my students and just talking about their day and what they like to do. As a result of this experience, I have become a greater individual and have gained more responsibility and trust. My partner, Efren, was a very nice person. He is smart, honest, and loves to read. I learned to become patient with the young students and listen to what they have to say. I would definitely consider doing a program like this again. I thought it was very fun and I got to learn a lot about younger students and their activities.” - Student-Athlete, Woodbridge High School

“The best thing about my experience in the Readers Are Leaders program is getting the opportunity to work with kids who struggle in reading or do exceptionally well with it. I was shocked that my partner had a very exciting attitude toward reading. He enjoyed books based on movies and always expressed an interest. I think the Readers Are Leaders program really opened my eyes to how much I can help the youth in our community. The program really solidified my personal goal of being a future educator. If another opportunity presented itself to be apart a program that offers a helping hand to help people, I would definitely jump at it because I believe everyone deserves a shot at succeeding, some just need more help than others to grow and succeed.” - Student-Athlete, Woodbridge High School


“The Readers Are Leaders program is a terrific opportunity to encourage student athletes to do more than just think about playing sports and keeping their grades up. It offers them the chance to see that others can benefit from what they know and that they can contribute in ways that don't depend on them being the best athlete or even the best student. The younger students that this program works with are able to gain something just from the student athlete giving them her/his time and attention to help the children focus on reading in a non-demanding and friendly atmosphere. And most young children want to impress teenagers and gain their attention (and I'm sure the teenagers enjoy the excitement the children show), so the age ratio of student to student athlete is perfect!” - Rudy Coffield, Head Girls Varsity Basketball Coach, Hayfield High School

“As a first year participant in the Program, I did not know what to expect. I was very surprised at the enthusiasm of my players, and the way they immediately bonded with the younger kids. I think they really enjoyed their experience, and many of them are already talking about coming back next year. The staff at the center was very helpful, and we formed a nice little community.” - Drew Murphy, Head Boys Basketball Coach, Centreville High School

“I feel the most valuable aspect of the Readers Are Leaders program is the relationships and guidance that takes place. The program is wonderful. I feel, at times, that my players are getting as much out of it than the elementary children. I feel that my players have helped some of their reading "buddies" to stay out of trouble and to make smarter decisions in school. Each Monday, both my players and their partners focused on improving their reading skills. Mrs. Pankowski and her assistant, need to be commended for their organization and professionalism regarding this program. The students truly have two people that care.” - Jason Ritenour, Boys Varsity Baseball Coach, Woodbridge High School, PWCPS


“This year I had two students who participated in the Readers Are Leaders program. Aiyana and Wilber both really enjoyed the program. Each week they would run for their reading basket and race down the hall to get to their reading partners. Over the year the program helped to inspire and motivate these students to read books at home and practice during their free time at school. Both of these students' confidence grew over the year, and both asked if they could have other opportunities to read out loud to other classes like FECEP. Also my students were so thankful and proud to receive books to add to their home library along with a carry bag. Thanks for all who participated in the program. I feel that it was very successful from a teacher's point of view.” - Mary Markfelder, 1st grade teacher, Hutchison Elementary School

“The Readers Are Leaders program has made a huge impact on some of our most struggling readers. This program has helped the students become more confident in their reading abilities, and I hope that more students are able to participate in future years.

“Students were provided with the chance to share great books with high school students that they admire. This mentorship helped show the value of being a life-long reader. Our students treasured the time that they spent with their high school readers and have expressed interest in meeting with them more often.

“Students were very appreciative of every new book that they received. Several students shared their excitement, and one girl told me she would find a special place in her home so that the books would last a long time.

“Thanks again for including us in your program.” - Tania Dedham, Literacy Coach, London Towne Elementary School


“Thank you so much for the wonderful and inspirational program, Readers Are Leaders, that you brought to our students. This program provided many of our students additional opportunities to read with positive community role models. Through these established partnerships, the gift of books, time, and reading were not the only gifts exchanged; this program enriched many students by fostering a sense of belonging, confidence, and purpose. Students looked forward to the structured time with their mentees; it provided an additional time for select students to shine in a one-on-one setting and to read with their new friend. They were listened to and cared for by their mentee. It was obvious our students took great pride in wanting to demonstrate growth with their reading skills, comprehension, and fluency. Our students were provided books to read at school, at home, and keep through the Readers Are Leaders program. It was a joy to witness the enthusiasm the program promoted in both the leaders and our readers. This community outreach opportunity gave a gift far greater than just reading; it instilled a partnership, a love and appreciation of both books and community. The program created an immeasurable bond between students anchored by their love of books and their new found appreciation of all that reading brings to life. What an amazing program! Thank you for your continual support.” - Diane W. Davis, FCPS Cluster-Based Instructional Coach, Hutchison Elementary School

“Herndon Elementary has been extremely fortunate to have held two sessions of Readers Are Leaders this year. We implemented the first program in the winter with our second grade boys and the Herndon High School boys' basketball team. Then we implemented a second program in the spring with our second grade girls and the Herndon High School girls' lacrosse team. The children that participated in this program were so excited each week for the opportunity to work with their mentors. Both groups of mentors from the high school worked diligently with the students each week reading books for thirty minutes. The support given by the mentors was positive, individualized, and made a real difference for our second grade participants. The children also loved the incentives they were given each week for their accomplishments. Readers Are Leaders has truly created a sense of community in our school. Many of the mentors were former students here! We look forward to participating in this remarkably rewarding (for all) reading program in the future.” - Evelyn Breitbach, Reading Teacher, Herndon Elementary School

“The Readers Are Leaders program was a huge hit here at Hayfield ES. We had started an after school reading program called Camp Hayfield for struggling first, second, and third graders that had been in place a few weeks prior to learning about Readers Are Leaders. Having mentor readers for these students was a huge boost to their confidence and to their reading achievement. The students loved everything from having a snack with their mentors to reading with them to engaging in computer activities with them. I think the high school student mentors learned a lot as well and I am sure that they had fun. Our goal was simply to get this group of kids to read more and to feel like readers. I think we accomplished this goal. By the end they were able to identify just right books for themselves and set goals for themselves as readers. This will give them all the confidence they need to be successful in the next grade. Having tangible rewards (key chains, pins, book bags, and shirts) excited the students and had them working harder. At the end we had a reading celebration and let them pick out free books for summer reading. This was a much appreciated and loved by all of the students.” - Kendra Trainer, Reading Specialist, Hayfield Elementary School

“This was my first year participating in the Readers Are Leaders program. I was extremely impressed with how well-run the program was and the potential for impact among students-both the high school and elementary students. Our elementary students were consistently enthusiastic about coming to read with their high school buddy. I was impressed with the commitment the high school students made to come regularly to read with their student. The students loved the books and incentives they received. It was my honor to be involved in a program that directly provided good role models and necessary resources (books!) for our students.” - Reading Specialist, Hutchison Elementary School



“The Readers Are Leaders program was started at Hutchison Elementary School during the 2009/2010 school year. We were fortunate to have twenty two students in grades 1-6 paired with students from the Herndon High School girls' basketball team to read together. This gave our students an opportunity to interact with positive role models from the high school and help them understand that others in the community care about their success. The high school participants were very responsible and committed to the program. They gave their time to our students after their school day ended once a week.

“What a wonderful opportunity for our students to be supported by this program! The benefits for our students receiving support from positive role models cannot be fully defined or put into numbers. Our students have shown much enjoyment in participating in the program; however, I believe that in years to come they will have far more appreciation for what they received, knowing that others cared about their success and that older "kids" helped them in their learning process. Hutchison was very fortunate to be a part of the program and our hope is that the program will continue and support our students throughout the coming year.” - Judy Baldwin, Principal, Hutchison Elementary School

“I want to commend the Readers Are Leaders program which matches high school athletes to struggling readers at my school. We have had wonderful comments made by our second grade students about the boy's basketball team and the girl's lacrosse team. The children look forward to working with their tutors and enjoyed their gifts. We are always looking for ways to keep our students motivated to succeed and this program helps us in this goal. We would like for this program to continue at our school.

“Thank you for your support.” - Carolyn Gannaway, Principal, Herndon Elementary School

“Dear Mr. Byrd,

“Old Bridge Elementary School has worked collaboratively with you for the last three years to implement a World Class Readers Are Leaders (RAL) program for the Prince William County School division. Boys and girls in grades 4 and 5 continue to participate in the program. Woodbridge High School boys' and girls' varsity basketball team as well as the boys' baseball and girls' soccer teams, worked with our students through the fall and spring seasons. We appreciate your continued leadership and support assisting us in expanding our program.

“The program continues to be a great success for both our elementary students and the high school athletes. We enjoyed seeing the excitement of the elementary kids as they waited for their mentors to arrive. This excitement continued throughout the year as they learned to bond with each other and became more successful readers. The Old Bridge students in the program experienced measurable gains in their reading scores and witnessed a renewed desire to be readers.

“The high school athletes were intrinsically rewarded by participating in the RAL program. They acted as older mentors to our elementary students, providing role models that our students enthusiastically admired. The student athletes were incredibly dedicated to our kids both on and off the field. Old Bridge students were special guests at their athletic events and received special recognition during the games.

“It is our hope that we are able to continue this program next year. We know the students will be asking when the program will begin as soon as the school year begins. We are grateful to you, Mr. Byrd, as founder, for including us in the program. We are also grateful to the coaches who selflessly committed to the success of the program.

“Thank you again for including us in the program.” - Jodi Pankowski, Assistant Principal, and Laura Kostrzebski, Counselor, Old Bridge Elementary School, PWCPS


“My son was a participant in the program and I simply cannot put into words how much he enjoyed the program and the improvements made in his reading skills and enthusiasm toward reading. He would come home each week so excited about the activities he did during the program and couldn't wait to start reading the books he brought home with him. There was such positive reinforcement of the progress he made that his confidence in his reading skills improved significantly. He loved the computer time and enjoyed the chance to apply his reading skills in a new way. The Readers are Leaders program was so important to my son that he never wanted to miss it and was willing to stay after school for the program each week. He would ask to go to the library to take out more books. Finally, I can't say enough about the stellar group of teachers running the program. Their commitment to education, and so freely giving of their time to work with these kids and mentors was just wonderful.” - Amy Zirkle, Hayfield Elementary School Parent

“My son, Mitchell, has been involved with the Readers Are Leaders program now for 2 years. Once a week during the basketball season, he went with his team from South Lakes High School to a neighboring elementary school to help their assigned elementary student in reading. It was not only a beneficial and an invaluable experience for the younger student, but my son gained a lot from it as well. He felt proud that he could use his skills and knowledge to help someone in his community. He knew someone was waiting and looking forward to seeing him every week and this instilled a greater level of responsibility and obligation in him. He remembers reading in small groups with a teacher when he was that young but mentioned it would have been a lot more fun and exciting to have had a high school student come into his school and read to him.

“He looks forward to having the opportunity and responsibility in getting involved in this program again next year. Thank you. ” - Eva Dempster, South Lakes High School Parent of a Student-Athlete

Article from Herndon Observer, January 22, 2010
Reading Program Provides Role Models

By Leslie Perales, Observer Staff Writer

On Wednesday afternoons Hutchison Elementary School's cafeteria is filled with the hushed murmur of reading students.

Jackie Bulanow, reading specialist at Hutchison, said it is one of her favorite noises. The students in the room are children chosen from the school to participate in the Readers Are Leaders program, which is new to the school this year.

"This program is unique in that it provides opportunities for both the high school students here in Herndon and the elementary students," Bulanow said. "I've gotten feedback from the teachers, the kids absolutely love it."

As part of the program, students from Herndon High School's girls' basketball teams come to the school after classes are out to read to the elementary students. Members of the boys' basketball team take part in the program by reading to students at Herndon Elementary School.

Retired Fairfax County teacher and coach Wendell Byrd started the program in 2003 to mix two things he loves, coaching and learning. The program not only provides extra reading support to students who take part but it also gives them a role model to look up to, Bulanow said.

Teachers at the school were allowed to choose which of their students need extra help through the program. Bulanow said reading is a critically important skill and teachers and high school volunteers have reported improvement among the students. "It's the foundational piece that unlocks everything else," she said.

Bulanow said the high school students who take part go to a training session prior to starting the program to learn how to work with the students and also to explain their roles as mentors. She said they want to make them aware that the elementary students will look up to them.

On Wednesdays toward the end of the day students bring books from class, books they receive from the program and books from the school to practice their reading, Bulanow said. She said the high school students receive incentives to give to their young readers such as pencils, pins, lollipops and wristbands.

Callie Pfeffer-Hahn, a freshman at HHS, said she chose to take part in the program because she wanted to help make a difference. "It seems like they're getting better as they go along," she said. She said the Hutchison students enjoy the program and it has taught her patience.

HHS Senior Alexis Lewis said she enjoys the program because she likes spending time with the elementary students. "You're teaching them something that's a life skill," she said. "They're so much fun." She said she has also learned the importance of giving back, which she especially enjoys because she attended Hutchison for elementary school.

Bulanow said the high school students have taken their responsibilities with the program very seriously and all the students involved are enthusiastic about the program. She said because many of the students balance multiple languages it's also beneficial in reinforcing language skills.

"The mentorship piece in this is key," Bulanow said. "I feel like they've taken on the responsibility in a really neat way. The very fact that they show up every week is a testimony to that." She said on Wednesdays supervising the program is the highlight to her day. "I love that sort of dull hum of reading going on," she said. "It thrills me."

The program has expanded to a number of area elementary and high schools and it began at Terraset Elementary and South Lakes High School.

To learn more about the program visit


In May of 2008, our outreach to improve literacy in Fairfax communities was recognized at the Northern Virginia Urban League's 18th Annual Community Service Dinner. Readers Are Leaders is very much in line with the NOVAUL work plan: “To continue to build alliances, enhance our advocacy efforts, further our empowerment agenda and create opportunities that foster economic and social advancement and educational achievement for our constituency throughout the Northern Virginia community.”


In 2012, the Readers Are Leaders program was featured on the local CBS affiliate, WUSA9, and then posted on HighSchool Sports Net ( The feature describes the rationale behind the organization.

Readers Are Leaders was also the focus of an article written by Dave Facinoli of the Sun Gazette describing the way the program operates between McLean High School and Timber Lane Elementary School in Falls Church (

In 2012, Readers Are Leaders was the subject of a Loudoun County Public Schools Vimeo about the partnership between Dominion Trail Elementary School and the Broad Run High School football team (