by RSVP volunteer Lalita Subrahmanyan
Special to the Star News
A readers theater program launched just over 25 years ago is reimagining itself in the pandemic in hopes of celebrating its silver jubilee.
The Bookends program, launched in December 1996 and supported by the RSVP program for retired senior volunteers, was designed to bring the joy of reading to children. Simultaneously, it resulted in a learning community of volunteers who interact with young people in the schools and share their love of reading.
A pilot program is being developed to reach schools and children with recorded performances as the pandemic continues to keep the volunteers and school children separated. The pandemic put a pause on the Bookends program in March 2020; those that have been involved can wait no more for a return to normalcy.
Speaking on behalf of all the RSVP volunteers, volunteer Ann Hove said, “We are extremely disappointed not to be out in the schools.”
Heather Brooks, AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP coordinator, states that RSVP is planning to pilot an e-version of the program, something that has generated much excitement among the volunteers. The idea is to bring volunteers together online to record an RSVP-facilitated Bookends performance that will be shared with interested schools in Elk River and beyond.
Brooks is optimistic.
“It won’t be the same, but so what?” she said. “It will be just as exciting for volunteers to get back together for themselves, and more importantly, for the children!”
True to the traditions of readers theater, the goal of the volunteers is to make children’s literature come alive by reading stories in the classrooms using their voices, gestures, and facial expressions. Each session of about 30 minutes comprises a short introduction, the reading, and interactions with the children.
Between 13 and 25 men and women, from all walks of life, have been getting together with a facilitator to learn, practice reading their parts, and “perform” the stories in the schools.
AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP provides valuable support to volunteers by interviewing them, connecting them with schools and teachers, matching volunteers with books and preferred age group, and by providing valuable mileage reimbursement and liability insurance.
Hove has immersed herself in the lives of children as an educator and volunteer before and after retirement. Today she is one of the facilitators in RSVP’s Bookends program in Elk River, where they serve 19 elementary schools. Having used readers theater all her life as an elementary school teacher and reading coordinator, Hove is well prepared to be one of the leaders, all of whom she explains, work on scripts, props, recruiting and scheduling.
Classroom teachers choose stories including all-time favorites such as “Insects Are My Life”; recent school issues, for instance, bullying and kindness; and historical nonfiction.
“We have prepared 73 scripts,” she said, proudly, “all of which have been performed.”
Hove believes that volunteering is important everywhere, but in education today “it really fills a void. Moreover, volunteers also play a significant part in promoting the schools in the community.”
Her excitement is palpable during an interview. Her eyes shine as she recollects reading “Insects Are My Life.”
“It’s about this girl who puts bugs into everyone’s stuff,” she said. With a twinkle in her eyes, she whispers, “It’s sort of fun isn’t it? Children love it!
“Of course, we tell them it’s not something we’re encouraging you to do.”
Hove says volunteers are honored to be a part of this group and they love to be recognized when they are out and about in the community.
Kids will come up to her excitedly and say, “I know you; you did the part of so-and-so in the story at my school.”
They then introduce her to their parent or whoever is with them.
The readers theater members even get dozens of thank you notes from students throughout the school year.
Bookends is one of many volunteer opportunities offered through AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP to citizens ages 55 and older in Sherburne, Benton, and Stearns counties. For more information, contact RSVP Program Coordinator Heather Brooks at 763-635-4505 or email@example.com.