Promoting ‘reading, speaking, the love of books’ | News

LAWRENCE — A recent visit was the first time George Edmonds had returned to John Breen School in two years.

“It’s good to be back,” Edmonds said. “It’s wonderful, absolutely. It was a long time ago.”

About four years ago, Edmonds organized a group of volunteers from Edgewood Lifecare Community in North Andover to visit the Breen every two weeks and read to preschoolers. It must have stopped when the pandemic hit in March 2020, and it still hasn’t resumed.

But Edmonds, who is 90 and taught English at Phillips Academy for 20 years until his retirement in 1981, still wanted to help children learn to read.

So on Tuesday he brought a check for $900, courtesy of the Edgewood Residents’ Council, to help Breen teachers buy books.

“We buy big books with enlarged characters, to read aloud to the whole group and even for small group classes,” said Rebecca Pagliarulo-Milone, who has taught preschool at Breen for 20 years. and serves as a liaison with the school. with Edgewood volunteers. “We will also purchase books that will celebrate cultural diversity and multiculturalism, and we will purchase materials, such as puppets, to help facilitate read-aloud themes.”

John Breen School, which was built in 1910, has 55 staff and educates about 306 students in preschool and kindergarten programs, vice principal Carolyn McHugh said.

Edmonds began his reading program there with a group of four or five other Edgewood residents and eventually recruited a total of 22 people who would read in 16 different preschool classrooms.

“We don’t have enough volunteers to do kindergarten too, so we went to kindergarten,” Edmonds said. “That’s where it’s needed, helping the school get the kids moving.”

He said that in addition to reading aloud, they encouraged children to ask questions and taught them the meaning of important words in a book.

“We value the development of the whole child, and literacy is definitely a big part of that,” McHugh said. “Having people come from the community and read to children, it’s such a beautiful partnership for different generations to share the love of reading together.”

Edmonds began organizing volunteer programs shortly after leaving Phillips Academy, as he was “looking forward to doing more in the community” and took Phillips students to tutor at Lawrence’s Boys Club three times per week.

“I got a big grant from a foundation in Boston to run the program, buy books and supplies, etc.,” he said. “We had the Brain Boosters tutoring program for fourth and fifth grade boys. They read for fun and wrote stuff: poems, short stories, essays.

Edmonds did this for four years, then ran a volunteer program for the town of Lawrence for seven years, with funding from the Stevens Foundation.

This involved finding volunteers to read to kindergarten and first graders, as well as recruiting employees from Lucent Technologies and other companies to help fourth and fifth graders with math, among several other programs.

“When I left, we had about 600 volunteers at 17 public schools in Lawrence,” Edmonds said.

He retired for good in 1995 and moved to Edgewood seven and a half years ago, where he decided to get involved in volunteering again.

The money he donated on Tuesday was collected from a volunteer-run convenience store run by the Edgewood Residents’ Council, which donates proceeds from the store to a variety of worthy causes.

“We have a number of high school kids who serve as waitresses and servers in our dining hall,” Edmonds said. “They are sometimes the recipients. They donated to the North Andover Trails Committee for walks on our land. It is a wonderful attribute for us to live there. I love to walk in the woods.

He said they are carefully monitoring safety measures at Edgewood, and his band is just waiting for it to be safe again before resuming playing in front of the children.

“Our motto is to promote the reading, the word, the love of books,” Edmonds said. “We think we’re helping get students reading to grade three level by grade three, and we can’t claim to believe we’re having a huge impact on that, but every little bit helps. We love being reading boosters.

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