After reading together, John and his “pal” do some coloring.

Reading can be the ultimate way to escape. Or connect.

This summer, a Star Scout from New Jersey pioneered a way for older students at his school to read to younger students through Zoom.

John Facchini calls it the Summer Reading Pal Program. He paired 35 older students (seventh or eighth graders) with 35 younger students (first or second graders). Each pair attends John’s school: St. Francis Academy, a Catholic school in Union City, N.J.

The weekly meetings last 30 minutes. After an opening prayer, each pair reads a book together, draws or plays charades, and simply talks about their week.

So why did John go to all this trouble to help kids half his age? Because he’s a Scout. And Scouts solve problems others might not even recognize.

John knows the pandemic has been hard on 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds. With playdates paused and playgrounds closed, they haven’t been seeing their friends very often. And they’re too young to connect with classmates through social media or texting.

“I wanted to create a way for them to stay connected with the school community,” John says. “Thanks to Scouting, I have developed a habit of looking around to see how I can help others.”

Thanks to the Summer Reading Pal Program, these younger students are staying connected, spending time with positive role models and fueling their burgeoning love of reading.

John sitting in front of a computer

‘Do a Good Turn Daily’

Once John had the idea to start a Summer Reading Pal Program, he contacted his school’s administrators. They asked him to write a brief summary explaining his plan, which he did.

They loved the idea and told him to run with it.

Here’s an overview of John’s plan:

  1. John emailed incoming seventh and eighth grade students to see who was interested. The program was not mandatory.
  2. John asked each volunteer to commit to an hour a week for 10 weeks. The hour broke down like this:
    • 15 minutes meeting with their pal’s parent and preparing for the session
    • 30 minutes meeting with their pal (reading, playing a game, talking)
    • 15 minutes emailing their pal’s parents a post-meeting report and recording notes into a shared Google Sheet
  3. John emailed parents of students entering the first or second grade to announce his plan and invite them to register their student.
  4. John created the pairs and outlined the rules:
    • Pairs could meet however they wanted — Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, etc.
    • Meetings should start with a prayer and include at least one book. After that, pairs could play a game, draw together or talk.
    • Parents must be present at all times, on both ends of the call.
    • If parents had questions or feedback, they could add those to their child’s Google Sheet.
  5. Each week, John sent the older students a sample agenda. They could follow that agenda exactly or modify it to meet their needs. Here’s a sample:
    • Greeting
    • Opening prayer
    • Storytime
    • Fun activity (related to the story, if possible)
    • Physical activity (stretching, yoga, charades, etc.)
    • Closing prayer
    • Goodbye
  6. John and a teacher monitored the Google Sheets to ensure that no meetings were skipped and to answer parent questions.

That was the “how.” What was the “why”?

In the overview sent to school administrators, John wrote about building reading skills, keeping kids connected and providing role models. But he also outlined the benefits for the other half of these Summer Reading Pal pairs.

”​I believe this program would also benefit the older students who need service hours for things like confirmation and high school applications,” John wrote.

As a reminder, a Scout may earn service hours outside of unit-sponsored projects, as long as their Scoutmaster approves. Read more about that subject here.

It started in Scouting

John is a Star Scout from Troop 146 of Hoboken, N.J. (Northern New Jersey Council).

He has enjoyed the adventure of Scouting so far — new friendships, immersive experiences and chances to give back.

During the pandemic, John has continued Scouting at Home. He has worked on rank advancement, joined the BSA’s National Camp-In, organized virtual campouts within his troop and attended a virtual summer camp put on by Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco. His troop even won the honor troop award during its week at camp.

In both his school and Scouting communities, John has used technology to build bridges.

”I believe that if there is anything that Scouting has taught me, it is that we are stronger as a community,” he says. “Now more than ever, we need to stay strong.”

His Summer Reading Pal Program is helping that cause. While the service hours are a nice bonus, John knows the real value of the program is the chance to help people.

One day this summer, he opened his inbox to find an email from the father of one of the younger pals. The father shared that his daughter considered those 30 minutes the highlight of her week.

“I believe that the Scout slogan, ‘Do a Good Turn Daily,’ is one of the most important aspects of Scouting,” John says. “It means that Scouts should always look for opportunities to help others.”

The power of reading

Reading is fun. And fundamental.

It’s essential to introduce young people to the joys of reading from an early age.

Whether your child listens as you read a bedtime story, enjoys a chapter book or dives into the latest issue of Boys’ Life, this love of reading will remain with them for life.

That’s partly why John started his Summer Reading Pal Program. He knows the power of words and how the brain lights up when a younger student hears a book read by someone closer in age.

Beyond all that, John says, reading is a ton of fun.

“It’s a fun way to improve your memory, vocabulary and imagination while also, in some cases, teaching you more about the world and history,” John says.

The perspective from dad

Joe Facchini is an optimist, but he never could’ve guessed how impactful his son’s project would become.

”Not only are the younger students enjoying it, but the older students are getting a lot out of it,” he says. “Some of them have even volunteered to work with multiple younger pals.”

While the program isn’t a Scouting service project, Joe has employed Scouting techniques when determining how much to help his son. Just like a Scout troop is led by the youth, Joe ensured his son’s project was youth-led as well.

“Initially, John asked for help as he was emailing the principal or setting up the Google Sheet. I was happy to provide some pointers,” Joe says. “But since then, he has been running the program with little support from me. I’ve had the opportunity to appreciate his growing maturity.”

And it hasn’t just been his own son’s selflessness that has caught Joe’s attention. He’s seen countless examples of Scouts helping others — including stories on this very blog. And he wants to hear about even more.

“I just want to ask all the Scouts out there to keep doing Good Turns and not to be shy sharing news about them,” he says. “Reading all the stories on your blog has energized my family and given us new ideas for how we can help in our communities.”

Share your #ScoutingStories

Let’s all do our part to share positive Scouting stories like the one above. Use the hashtag #ScoutingStories when sharing inspiring stories on your own social media channels. And as always, we invite you to use the Contact page to share those stories with us.

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