The Western Carolina University and Smokey Mountain Elementary School volunteer reading project "Book Buddies" was cut short this semester.
But the relationship will continue, with a donation to help cover expenses for the elementary school's meals-at-home program.
Through the project, now in its third year, students from WCU's Honors College read to elementary school students in class or after school on a regular basis, either in group settings or one-on-one, from books chosen by Smokey Mountain teachers.
The project helps improve class participation, reading skills and child confidence, said Michelle Marr, assistant principal of Smokey Mountain Elementary School, located near Whittier. The project gives participating honors students' lessons in coordination, scheduling and fundraising, as well as community involvement, said Jill Granger, dean of the Honors College.
"In the face of COVID-19, our board unanimously pushed to continue to support the elementary school students during these trying times," said Jack Stuckey, an officer of the honors student board of directors. "There were funds remaining within the community service committee's budget."
The Honors College had $450 left to cover "Book Buddies" expenses, money raised largely through T-shirts sales and donations. That amount has now been donated to Smokey Mountain's meals program, with school buses continuing routes to deliver breakfast and lunch to the stay-at-home students.
"Volunteering at the elementary school was such an enriching experience through 'Book Buddies,' but to help provide meals for students who may be food insecure is much more inspiring," said Hannah Nicole Miller, an Honors College student majoring in environmental health. "Some of these students may have relied on school breakfasts and lunches for food before COVID-19, so the Honors College board providing unused money to help feed them is wonderful."
Plans are to continue "Book Buddies" once "stay home, stay safe" orders are lifted and the academic schedules are back to normal. "We are very appreciative of the 'Book Buddies' program and the relationship we have with Western Carolina University," Marr said. "We look forward to continual work with the Honors College in the upcoming school year."