Scottsdale Salutes: library reading teacher, Pam O’Keeffe

Pam O'Keeffe (submitted photo)

Pam O’Keeffe (submitted photo)

Young students who fall behind in their reading skills often find it difficult to keep pace with their classmates, putting them in a challenging position that could last a lifetime.

A Scottsdale resident who believes strongly in the power of literacy, is volunteering her time to help disadvantaged students confront and overcome this challenge.

Pam O’Keeffe volunteers three times a week at the Civic Center Library in Scottsdale. She helps out the Wednesday “Shake, Rattle and Roll” musical program for preschool children, and twice a week after school she is a reading tutor for first- and second-grade children.

Ms. O’Keeffe started volunteering at the library more than five years ago. She wanted to spend more time around children in order to better connect with her own grandchildren whom she doesn’t see very often because they live in Colorado.

“If I just hang with these little kids for a little while, I’ll know how to be next time I see (my grandchildren),” said Ms. O’Keeffe in a Sept. 2 phone interview.

Her original plan was to volunteer with all different age groups so she could better relate to her own grandchildren as they grew.

It didn’t work out that way.

“I fell in love with the preschoolers,” said Ms. O’Keeffe. “I didn’t leave that program as my granddaughters aged.”

Ms. O’Keeffe enjoys the young class because it’s fun and silly, and she gets to see kids enjoy reading and music. She believes preschool children exposed to rhythm, rhyme and movement learn to read more quickly and accurately.

“I’ve watched one of them from three months old, and now he’s walking. There’s no question in my mind that he’s going to be an avid reader,” said Ms. O’Keeffe.

She feels the program plays a critical role in the boy’s life, and he thrives while being there.

The afterschool program she is involved with, called “Read to Succeed!,” is a tutoring program for at-risk first- and second-grade readers identified by their teachers as “falling behind,” said Ms. O’Keeffe.

“If they’re not at a minimum level by third grade it’s almost impossible for them to catch up academically,” said Ms. O’Keeffe.

“If the parents have been informed and agree, for two afternoons, one hour a week, their son or daughter will be brought to the library and will go through a reading exercise that’s fun for them—to help them catch up.”

The program involves a handful of children all at a similar reading level. They read books using iPads, which makes the experience fun. She said the books chosen for them are ones that contain certain words the children need to learn.

“They take turns identifying words in those stories and it seems to be helpful to organize their minds and to pay attention to critical paths,” said Ms. O’Keeffe.

The reading volunteer has lived in Scottsdale since 1987 and has lived close to the library since 2004. Her choice of transportation to the library is by bicycle.

Ms. O’Keeffe’s husband also volunteers his time in Scottsdale as a docent at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

The two lived in the same neighborhood for years before meeting in 2012 and getting married a year-and-a-half later.

If interested in volunteering for the city of Scottsdale, visit www.scottsdaleaz.gov/volunteer.

To nominate someone for Scottsdale Salutes e-mail Melissa Fittro at mfittro@newszap.com.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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