Elementary School Students

"I loved reading with my buddy and having him listen to me. It really helped me get into the books. I learned that some books don’t sound very good, or may not be your type, but you should give them a try. Chris helped me realize that."
"The Readers Are Leaders program 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."
"I think that it is really cool that high school football players were allowed to come to my school to help us with our reading…. (My mentor) and I would set a goal for how many pages or chapters that I should read each week. He would go over the pages with me and ask me what had happened in the story. I liked being able to talk about my books with him, so I was happy to read more at night than I used to."
"The best thing was she [my mentor] taught me how to read and I didn’t know how to read a lot of books. My vocabulary improved and I knew some of the words from class. You have to try to get better at it and you need to practice it a lot. My attitude improved. My personal goal is to read more to get better. The most valuable thing was I’m learning how to read and getting better at it. I would like to be part of a program like this again because I could teach other people to get better at reading and then they can help others."

High School Student-Athletes

"My favorite thing about the program was seeing the smile on my kid's face every day when I would arrive. It was nice to see how excited she was to read that day. She made getting up early worth it. I was surprised with how much improvement from day one to the last day. Her reading improvement was astounding. I have always enjoyed spending time with kids and this program just increased that joy. I've never really been an outgoing person, but working with my partner gave me the chance to come out of my shell a bit to work with her. I also learned how important mentors are to younger children. I think all of us on the baseball team gained a lot of knowledge by working with these great kids."
"When first hearing about this program two years ago, I was reluctant to join as I felt that I wouldn't be a proper fit or that I was "too quiet/too shy" of a person to be able to participate in this and truly help the kids out. Looking back on it now, with two years of experience under my belt, I can say that RAL isn't just for the kids but for their buddies as well. Through this program I have been able to grow more and more confident in my abilities as an individual and with that, I feel as if I have been bettered by it. Each year has brought a new experience, a new "challenge," and a new reason to look forward to going to an elementary school early on Wednesday mornings to be with my buddy. Both years have brought on their own respective pleasures, but I can say that I've thoroughly enjoyed both years and being associated with the RAL program. It is quite honestly an amazing thing that is going on and having been a part of it has brought on tremendous joy to me which I cannot thank Dominion Trail and Broad Run Football for enough. These memories will last with me for a long time to come and I can't imagine having spent my Wednesday mornings doing anything else."


"I would like to thank you for choosing Jaylyn to be a part of the Readers Are Leaders Program this year. She was so excited to be a part of this program and had a wonderful experience. Her reading level grew tremendously from this program as we noticed her enjoying reading vs. looking at reading as a chore.

Jaylyn’s motivation and excitement to read became apparent as she attended the reading sessions. She was thrilled about getting to read with a high school student which made her feel very special. Jaylyn went from being behind on her reading level to reading on the same level as her classmates.

Thanks again for recommending Jaylyn for the Readers are Leaders Program this year. It really gave her the extra boost in confidence she needed to stay on track with her peers. Thank you to the high school students who are willing to volunteer their personal time to help the students in this program and the impact they made on them."

"My son, Max, is a 1st grader at Frances Hazel Reid and had the pleasure of participating in the program this spring 2015. Max is a very hard worker and was excelling in all areas of school with the exception of reading despite efforts at home and school. During the 1st and 2nd quarters of this school year, he was reading at or below the benchmark, and I was having a very hard time motivating him to complete his reading assignments. He loved school and completed most of his assignments with ease. However, reading frustrated him so much that we were considering enrollment in afterschool reading programs.

It wasn’t until Max started the Readers Are Leaders Program that I noticed a change in his enthusiasm and willingness to complete his reading assignments. Max loves sports and was super excited that his new mentor for the program, Niall, played baseball at Tuscarora High School. He excitedly talked about his reading time with Niall and looked forward to reading with him. We noticed a drastic difference in his attitude towards reading and completing assignments at home. Suddenly, thanks to Niall, Max thought reading was "cool". By the end of the third quarter, Max's reading scores improved substantially, and he was finally reading at the benchmark.

While the reading program at school was tremendously helpful in Max’s improved reading skills and abilities, l credit the Readers Are Leaders Program with increasing Max's motivation and enthusiasm for reading. In my opinion, it would be a detriment to discontinue such a wonderfully beneficial and motivating program."

"Two of my three elementary children have been reading below their level, and I truly believe this program has been beneficial for both of them. While I was skeptical about the program at first, it was more about my anxiety with my children being removed from their class session to attend a reading session with other "kids." But what I found was the benefit that both of our children were not only reading better, but with more fluency and better comprehension. Both of our children looked up to the high school football players as they were not represented as a teacher or parent, but someone in between who wasn't there to judge, criticize or perfect, but there to just read.

This year my fourth-grade son, Jacob… is very athletic, playing both travel hockey and baseball so the whole sports thing sold him on the program right away. He enjoyed reading with his buddy and continued to tell me that his partner always made him feel more confident in his reading; he really could identify with and relate to his partner. Tuesdays became his favorite day of the week. His fluency has grown leaps and bounds this year.

Last year, my then first-grade daughter, Maddie, was selected to read in the program. I was a bit apprehensive with her participating at first as she is shy and timid with strangers. Because of her knowledge of not reading on level, she tends to be intimidated reading altogether. But what I found with her was a sheer joy of having someone to "read to." This program served as a motivation to her to not only branch out socially, but to grow as a reader. I really think the basics of her feeling more confident and motivated to read well, had been established during that program's year. She'd come home to tell me what story she had read with "her football player," which showed me her reading comprehension was also improving. I’m proud to say that she is now reading at grade level and she LOVES to read."



"I have had the honor of sponsoring Readers Are Leaders the past three years here at Rosa Lee Carter ES. During this time, I have watched elementary students as well as high school athletes grow through this rewarding and enriching experience. Our elementary students look forward to reading with their special buddy on a weekly basis, coming with a huge smile on their face each time. The weekly books they receive are something they look forward to each time they come. The high school athletes get up early each day they come, despite sometimes staying up late the night before for homework, games, or both. Their level of dedication is wonderful to see. Watching these high school boys three times the size of our little guys as they patiently listen and prompt and question to encourage and support reading is heartwarming. The benefits to athletes and elementary students is immeasurable. I only wish that we could continue this through the entire year. There’s something about the bond shared between them that is a heartwarming experience for all involved, especially when you see the love of reading spread."

"Each Wednesday morning this spring, I had the opportunity of having some of my first grade students involved in the Readers Are Leaders Program. This day was the highlight of every week for several of my students. My students that were involved are not only poor readers, but many of them are quite shy and have low self-esteem. The program not only helped with their reading skills, but it also gave these students confidence.

They formed a great friendship and connection with the high school athletes…. Several of my first graders involved in the program suffer from a lack of self esteem and they are unsure of themselves, partly due to their reading difficulty. These students quickly formed a bond and friendship with their partner. My students were a bit apprehensive prior to the first reading session. The rest of the week, they all continually asked when they will get to read with their "High School Buddy" again. Their excitement on each Wednesday morning was wonderful to see….

During the tutoring sessions, I had the opportunity to walk around and observe the interactions of the Readers Are Leaders program. My students were fully engaged and enjoying every minute of their time. It was apparent that the students from Broad Run in the Readers Are Leaders program benefitted as much as my first graders. They were given a leadership role and handled their responsibilities with great maturity. I heard the students complimenting my first graders on their reading and I noticed them working to help build the confidence of my lowest readers."

Reading Specialists

"I am writing in support of the Readers Are Leaders Non-Profit Organization and the many benefits that it offers our students. This program not only has a direct impact on student reading performance in the current school year, but also serves to encourage a habit of lifelong reading.

The greatest impact this program has for our students is simply to get them excited about reading. By providing high interest text at students’ “just right” reading levels, Readers Are Leaders puts engaging stories into the hands of our students that can then be added to their home reading libraries to be read again and again. Research shows that one of the best interventions for struggling readers in grades 3-6 is to spend time engaged in the meaningful reading of text. Readers Are Leaders allows for high levels of engagement in reading as students are self-selecting books and reading them with their high school buddies.

Another aspect of Readers Are Leaders that has a great impact on our students is the time spent reading with the Lee High School basketball buddies. Many of the students who participate in this program do not have family members readily available at home to read with them and to coach them through the difficult reading process. The basketball buddies provide an authentic purpose for reading for the students, as well as valuable modeling and feedback to help students improve their reading skill.

The excitement about reading that Readers Are Leaders instills in our students and the relationships they build with their mentors make this program very successful in raising reading achievement for our struggling students. Readers Are Leaders is a valuable resource for creating a strong community/school partnership designed to increase student time spent reading and foster a lifelong love of reading.

We are thankful to have had the opportunity to benefit from Readers Are Leaders this year."

"Thank you to so much for providing support to our students for this most worthwhile program. We were able to partner with the Loudoun Valley High School Girls' Basketball Team, and 18 of our first-grade students had a weekly mentor to support their reading and spelling acquisition.

This is our seventh year with the RAL Program, and it is now considered as an essential part of our KWC reading program. The Program provides opportunities for students to use all four of their reading processes—reading, writing, speaking, and listening—making them better learners and readers. The athletes from LVHS not only share their joy of reading with the 18 first grade students each week, but they also play an integral part in our annual Read Across America activities and our opening pep rally where they cheer on all of our KWC students to reading goals.

The books that we purchased with funds provided by the RAL program have been used extensively in our building. Not only do the students get to read them and take them home to share, but we recycle them into guided reading six-packs for teachers to use with the rest of their students in the classrooms. Lesson plans have been written for the books, and teachers now have appropriately leveled books and lesson plans that provide excellent models for small-group guided reading instruction.

Our KWC students' ability to recognize patterns in words has improved significantly with the assistance of the high school students. At the beginning of the year, this first grade group had 18 students who did not meet the bench mark for the PALS reading assessment. At the end of the year, only 3 of those 18 students were unable to meet the PALS benchmark. All 18 students were reading below a first-grade level at the beginning of the year, and by the end of the year, 7 students were reading on grade level, and 10 more had advanced four to five reading levels.

Our work with the RAL Program has been supportive, engaging, and energizing! Ken Culbert Elementary is grateful to continue to be a part of such a phenomenal mentoring initiative. We are proud of the work we have accomplished and look forward to many more years with this organization!"


"This past season, the players from the Tuscarora High School baseball program participated in the Readers Are Leaders Program. This was the first year doing the program and it was a great success. The whole experience was rewarding for both the players and the elementary students. From the very first day our teams met with the reading specialist, to the last day with their buddies, the players in my program were very committed to the program. Our attendance was outstanding, my players were punctual, and they represented Tuscarora HS very well.

This program allowed for many of the players in my program to grow as they spent time with the elementary students. They were very aware of the positive impact they were making on the students, and little did they know the impact that the elementary students were having on them. I did not have many incidents when a player forgot to show up or was sick, but on the few occasions when that happened, they were upset that their reading buddy was let down that day. They knew that every day we did this there was an elementary student waiting for them to show up that day to work with them. This immediately created a great sense of responsibility for my players.

When the players were engaged with the students, it was incredible to watch. The elementary students had smiles on their faces. The players were joking around with the students; they were playing games, practicing vocabulary, or just reading books. Every day a coach was in there observing, you could tell that it was productive.

This is an incredible program and I hope to continue this every year given the opportunity."

"As you know, we had a few bumps in the road early on, but once things were worked out, things went well. I really enjoyed watching the student-athletes bond with their elementary school partners. There was a lot of positive energy. One of my freshman players was assigned to a young man who hated reading and had difficulty with his math. I was amazed at the patience and teaching techniques that my student exhibited in order to change this young man’s outlook on reading as well as making math problems easier to understand. I told her that she had a gift and I wouldn’t be surprised if she became an educator."

Students & Mentors


"Having now completed a second year with the Readers Are Leaders program, I am sold on the value of this program. Not only did the RAL program provide an additional opportunity to support our struggling readers, but it also motivated our students to want to read. Our students looked forward to reading with their buddy each week. The student athletes took this assignment most seriously while having fun and creating a positive relationship; the focus was always on reading during the sessions…. The relationships built between the students and the sense of pride the athletes developed for their students, shone in their faces. It was heartwarming to watch the relationship of trust develop between the athlete and student reader. Struggling readers are often shy or hesitant to read out loud. By creating a positive relationship, this was never a roadblock."

"The Readers Are Leaders Organization gave our school the leeway to implement the program in a way that maximized the time for the children while keeping the students engaged as well. This began with our reading specialists working collaboratively with the head baseball coach, Mr. Mark Bauer, to create a training program that the baseball players would attend prior to working with the children. This is an essential step as the players are far more capable of doing several different types of activities during a half hour period. The training began with ground rules and expectations from the coach to include consistent and prompt attendance. This was followed by our reading specialists showing the baseball players how to take quick assessment data with sight words, the strategies to use when a child came upon an unknown word, and phonics reading game demonstrations. The players were very engaged during this training.

On the first day that the players worked with the children, our reading specialists walked around and monitored the implementation of the different components and provided assistance and guidance where needed. The baseball players were quick with acquiring and implementing the skills needed to implement some word work, listen to the children read, and then play a phonics based game. As an observer walking in on the third visit, it was incredible to witness the baseball players taking data on word work, giving the children the appropriate hints while reading, and enthusiastically playing phonics games with the children. What became even more impressive was seeing the huge smiles on the faces of the children when their “reading buddy” showed up for a visit. It was clear that the baseball players enjoyed the experience of meaningfully working with the children as well. Baseball players know statistics and I think that the players responded well to keeping track of what the children knew during each visit and constantly reviewing the material with the children in which consistent mastery was not being demonstrated per their own record keeping.

I heard overwhelming enthusiastic comments from all parties involved including the players, students, and the parents of students. I sincerely hope that we can continue and even expand this program at our school in the future."

Social Workers

"I was surprised by how moving and rewarding it was to watch the players step into and embrace their roles as academic mentors .… During the drive from the high school to the elementary school, the players would talk about their present and future plans and discuss with each other their concerns and hopes for the younger boys. Even the youngest members of the varsity team, were committed to making a positive impact on the boys, in some cases, overcoming their own academic challenges and learning disabilities to do so."

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