Community Reading Buddies

Community Reading Buddies pairs teenage mentors with pre-K - 3rd grade learners, building literacy and community in tandem.

Each summer, over one hundred and forty junior high and high school students volunteer to spend time reading one-on-one with PreK – 3rd graders from Child Development Centers (Oakland Unified) in the East Bay.

40 – 60 teenage “Youth Mentors” visit Oakland’s preschools every day and lead their younger “Buddies” through an eight-week literacy and school readiness curriculum, preparing and supporting them to succeed in Kindergarten and beyond.

Community Reading Buddies Photo Gallery

Reading Buddies counts on your support!


2017 Family Reading Celebrations

The kids will tell you – “It’s a PARTY.” But this is no ordinary bash – this is for literacy. At Aspire and Tandem’s Family Reading Celebrations this year, the book-fun is on: playing alphabet memory games, making your own books, singing for our neighborhood friends, and enjoying visiting performers who bring fun stories to life. It all provides a fresh take on enjoying literacy as a family and a community. This school year, Aspire is planning two fun packed family engagement events at our partner Childhood Development Centers, United Nation CDC in April and Emerson CDC in May. We also had a Family Reading Night last November at our newest site, Laurel CDC. We can’t do it without the help of our very own teenage Youth Mentors. Not only do our Mentors brainstorm, promote, and run the events, they also meet their little Reading Buddies’ families. Everybody enjoys the fun literacy-focused games and entertainment, and together with our partners at Tandem, we give away dozens of gift books for buddies to take home with their families, continuing the reading fun and skill-building. Thank you to all the families, faculty, and Youth Mentors that continue to support our...

Community Reading Buddies 2017 Information

Reading Buddies 2017 registration is now open!

If you would like to join our 2017 program, you must:

  • Be at least an incoming seventh grader and at most an incoming high school senior in the fall of 2017
  • Commit to work at least three weeks and six sessions total (weeks need not be consecutive). More is encouraged – some students sign up for all eight weeks. Sessions run every day from June 12th to August 4th
  • Attend a mandatory volunteer training
  • Be able to work responsibly with children, staff and peers
  • Submit a signed Parental Permission Form

We will be working at three preschool sites this summer:

Highland CDC – 1322 86th Avenue, Oakland, CA 94621

Emerson CDC – 4801 Lawton Avenue, Oakland, CA 94609

Laurel CDC – 3825 California Street, Oakland, CA 94619 (NEW!)


Sign up for Reading Buddies below!

Please fill out the form below to participate in Reading Buddies 2017. After you have completed this initial form, you will receive an email with a calendar to sign up for specific days and locations.

Any questions?

Please just call the Reading Buddies line at (510) 550-5591. (Note: This is different than Aspire’s main line.) Or email us at

Click here to send us an email

About Community Reading Buddies

In Oakland, only one in three low-income children enter Kindergarten ready for school, and the same proportion are not reading on grade level once in third grade. Worse still, the research now confirms that for those who start behind, it is very difficult to catch up. However, recent longitudinal studies show that building reading skills early through one-on-one interaction can flip these dire statistics upside-down. In fact, “89 percent of students in poverty who did read on level by 3rd grade graduated on time,” with early reading skills a better predictor of graduation than income level or neighborhood. With less than half of Oakland’s high school students graduating, it is clear that Oakland’s most vulnerable youth are in need of rich early learning experiences that prepare them to succeed in school. We at Aspire Education Project are committed to providing those critical early supports through the Community Reading Buddies program.

Each summer, well over one hundred junior high and high school students from across the East Bay volunteer with Community Reading Buddies (CRB) and spend time one-on-one with preschoolers at Child Development Centers in Oakland. The teenage volunteers act as mentors, facilitating the younger children’s language and literacy development through book sharing, activities and play time. Youth Mentors receive training reflecting the latest research on effective practices to support budding literacy in young children.

Experts in early literacy widely agree that one-on-one interactive book reading is a valuable tool for supporting the development of early literacy and language skills. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Early Childhood, “reading with children in their… preschool years is associated with higher language skills at school entry and with childhood literacy acquisition.” CRB Mentors not only read books with their Buddies, but also use evidence-based interactive techniques to enrich the reading experience. Mentors learn how to:

● Help students understand how print works

● Talk with children during reading to encourage critical thinking and narrative skills

● Train students to recognize the sounds that make up words

● Develop their Buddies’ alphabet knowledge

Current research also points to the crucial importance of oral language skills in students’ later literacy development. For this reason, Youth Mentors receive specific training in how to nurture their young Buddies’ developing conversation skills. Mentors use multiple elements of highly effective oral language instruction : they engage children in conversation, use unknown vocabulary words, take turns listening and responding to what children are saying, and use open-ended questions to make program time more interactive.This work occurs during both reading and play time, which is taken as an indispensable opportunity for oral language development.

Finally, the one-to-one nature of CRB, with each Buddy receiving two dedicated 90-minute sessions per week from their Mentor, is also proven to be a highly impactful approach. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences’ review of the research, the gold standards for the field include “one-on-one tutoring by qualified tutors for at-risk readers.” From its beginning over twenty-one years ago, CRB has prioritized providing that one-to-one, skill-building experience to the Oakland children it serves. Community Reading Buddies transfers knowledge in multiple directions—the Buddies improve their early literacy and language skills, the Youth Mentors learn effective teaching practices, and everyone learns more about each other and the greater East Bay community.

Donors and Partners

Rogers Family Foundation

The Rogers Family Foundation is committed to improving educational opportunity and supporting organizations that align themselves in improving the quality of education amongst Oakland students. One of the three key initiatives set by the foundation in order to close the achievement gap is investing in early literacy for children of low-income families.

Western Digital Foundation

Western Digital Foundation aims to respond to the needs of the communities in which the company operates in, as well as promote the philanthropic vision of the Western Digital Corporation. The current focus area for the Western Digital Foundation include education, basic needs, and civic engagement within the community.

West Davis & Bergard Foundation

A new foundation in the San Francisco Bay Area supporting Community Reading Buddies with purchases of books and funding curricula.


Community Reading Buddies could not run without the support of volunteers, youth mentors, and the families that donate generously to meet the basic costs of the program. Any and all contributions are greatly appreciated to sustain the needs of the program. You can donate here!

Tandem Partners in Early Learning

Tandem Partners in Early Learning is rooted in the belief that high-quality early learning and strong family bonds can break the cycle of poverty and build brighter futures for children. We are grateful to partner with Tandem for volunteer training and the program’s Family Reading Celebrations, such as the one pictured below.

Clorox Corporation Foundation

The Clorox Company Foundation provides grants to local programs in Oakland, CA that contribute to youth and education development. Our Youth Mentors are given support by the foundation for leadership development in addition to improving the academic performance of children, especially in literacy. Together we strive to promote positive relationships among youth from diverse cultural and ethnic groups.

Oakland Unified School District, Early Childhood Education

We are grateful to have the support of the Oakland Unified School District through the Department of Early Childhood Education. Our 21 years of service to Oakland’s preschools is a testament to the enduring commitment to provide the children and families of Oakland the foundation for a high-quality education. In partnership, we will continue to develop and provide resources to promote early literacy among Oakland youth.

Mechanics Bank

Mechanics Bank is a community bank that has been serving the Bay Area since 1905.  The bank is committed to early childhood literacy and is a proud donor of Community Reading Buddies.

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