Sandra lives in Wirral with her two foster children, Ollie, 14, and Callum, 12.
Each week, both boys read one-to-one with a Reader volunteer as part of the BBC Children in Need-funded Reading Heroes project. Here she describes the difference that the Reading Heroes project has made:
“Ollie has a learning disability and when he came to me he had a reading age below 10. He has been with me for three years and has been reading weekly with Sally for just over two.
“Initially, someone from The Reader came out and had a chat with him – she asked him what kind of person he’d like to read with and he said he wanted someone like me, that he trusted me.
“They found Sally and he was delighted. She had so much understanding; she asked him what he enjoys, she reads with him, she reads to him, they read together and she encourages him to read by himself.
“He did, however, come to a point where he wasn’t sure if he wanted to carry on… Then Sally found some stories about the computer game Minecraft and used Ollie’s interest in that to get him back into reading.
“She always has time understanding for him, they always talk about how their days are going first and have developed a real friendship.
“Sally can’t believe how different he is, how confident he is. He used to really struggle with eye contact, but at the Reading Heroes event he came up to a Reader staff member that he had never met before and asked for more books and had a chat. He felt comfortable among the people that were there and had the confidence to do that. We couldn’t believe it. That’s the first time he’s ever done that. He’s really progressed.”
Sandra is thrilled that, in the time Ollie’s been part of the Reading Heroes project, his reading age has reached 16 years – above average for his peer group. She explained that his teachers have said his reading skills have come on tremendously and that, if it wasn’t for this determination and reading he’s doing at home, this would never have happened.
“Sally has also been helping him a little bit with his handwriting at the end of their sessions because he’ll listen to her – at school if they ask him to work on his handwriting he’d just say no, but he will do it for Sally.
“Having that one-to-one contact has helped him realise that he can socialise, he can talk to people, he can trust people and he can let people help him.”
For Callum, Sandra and Sally had to find more flexibility in when, and where, the Reading Heroes sessions took place: “Because of his additional learning needs, Callum really needed time to improve his social skills and develop friendships.
“Although Sally initially read with him at home, we found that shifting this to during school time meant he was able to spend more time with his friends after school. Callum likes that he made this choice. He’s learning to make choices and manage his time, which is something else that he’s learned during the project.”
Sandra wanted to stress the support that the Reading Heroes project has given to her as well: “It helps me to understand how they’re reading and it gives me extra support. I personally struggle with reading, so it gives me that little bit of extra help. The socialising is also important, because sometimes I won’t get to socialise for weeks, and so having someone come around that understands the boys and understands the situation is really supporting me as well.”