ST. FRANCISVILLE — For six years, volunteers from the West Feliciana Parish community have helped first-graders at Bains Lower Elementary improve their reading skills.

The Reader Leader program is designed to promote early childhood literacy by partnering volunteers with students to provide reading support.

Each volunteer sets aside 30 minutes every week to work one-on-one with a student to develop important skills such as decoding, sight word recognition and vocabulary development. They also share the joy of reading for pleasure.

The program is the brain child of Stephanie Ferguson, who has organized the readers for the students through the Bains Lower library and with the school’s administrators.

There are 30 children participating in the program, but there are actually 35 Reader Leaders volunteering. Some people opt to have reading partners and share duties in order to make volunteering for the program fit in to their schedules.

Teachers recommend students in the seven first-grade classes because Ferguson said that’s when the students learn how to read and they really want to read.

For the past two years, the North American Young Generation of Nuclear at Entergy’s River Bend plant has provided funds for gift books for the children for Christmas. Each gift bag has three books for the children in the program and were delivered by Ferguson and Natalie Wood of River Bend on Dec. 13.

“The mere fact that River Bend and NAYGN realize the importance of literacy and the invaluable influence that it has on all other learning is extremely encouraging,” Ferguson said. “Their confidence in the program confirms to me that they recognize the importance of educating children in their own community, which is not only influential to a positive society but is also imperative for the future of any business.

"I commend them for investing in our children who will some day be the adults who we will all depend upon to keep our community thriving.”

Volunteers report to Bains Lower and are allowed to read with the child anywhere from 7:50 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. so the children can be back in their classrooms in time for regular instruction to begin. Ideally, volunteers read on the same day each week, but it is not mandatory. Some volunteers can’t read every week, so they may partner with another person to form a Reader Leader team.

If people want to contribute but don’t have time to read, donations also are welcome. For information about Reader Leader or to sign up, email or call Ferguson at (225) 535-0005.