As a junior at Fox Lane High School last year, John Ronel imagined his final year in the Bedford Central School District would be jam-packed with long school days, senior activities, sports, social events and college prep. But in the wake of the pandemic, most of those events have been cancelled or delayed, and the school day has been shortened.
“I found myself with ample time and figured, well, Why not help someone else?” Mr. Ronel said in an interview with The Record-Review.
Through conversations with his Pound Ridge neighbors, he learned that he wasn’t the only one looking for a way to fill time. He learned that several parents of elementary school students were searching for a productive way to occupy their children after school. Mr. Ronel discovered there was a particular interest in using the time to improve their children’s reading comprehension and general interest in books.
It seemed like the perfect task for Mr. Ronel.
“I’m personally an avid reader, and now I love reading — but when I was younger, I didn’t like it at all,” he said. “I want to help kids like that to kind of guide them and get them into reading.” That inspired him to launch his own reading-based learning pod.
Learning pods are small groups of students who learn together outside the classroom but still in person. Some communities, like the Town of Lewisboro for instance, have even begun to offer their own supplemental learning pods for residents.
Through word-of-mouth, Mr. Ronel has already enrolled five third-grade students in his reading group. Each week, he meets with this group in an outdoor setting, with each attendee wearing a face mask and sitting at a safe distance. Initially, participants are introduced to a collection of books and asked to vote on which one they would like to read first. The group is currently reading “George’s Marvelous Medicine” by Roald Dahl.
Mr. Ronel has also lined up a selection of reading material for future sessions. Titles include “Who Would Win? Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Velociraptor” by Jerry Pallotta, and “Magic Tree House: Night of the Ninth Dragon” by Mary Pope Osborne.
The number of attendees, and even the age group, could change going forward based on the parents’ interest level, Mr. Ronel said. Although he is eligible to receive community service hours for this work, Mr. Ronel said, “it’s not about that at the end of the day.”
“Especially during a time like this, I think it’s a good opportunity to get kids hooked on books and reading,” Mr. Ronel said.