Writing program for kids marks 10 years

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Mentor and former teacher Frank Emmett works with a student on his initial essay.

They burst through the door with the expectation that circus performers had been entertaining within the room. Instead, it was the initial day of the spring 2019 2Rs4Fun program — the 10-year-old program at the Shelter Island Library that encourages 3rd and 4th graders to write.

Eight of the 11 students enrolled this spring enjoyed it enough in the past to return.

Waiting patiently beyond the door, were program director and founder Mary Dwyer and other adults in the community — known as “mentors” — who have volunteered time to work with the students on a one-to-one basis. They all agreed they get as much or more from the experience than the students.

If the mentors were quiet before the students arrived, their excitement became palpable as they saw the smiling faces and heard expressions of delight at beginning a new semester.

After a few housekeeping details, including each student receiving a writer’s notebook in which to write stories and thoughts, and enjoying cookies and juice, the young writers set about producing their initial essays with the help of the mentors.

“Write about yourselves or something in your imagination — it could be an animal, an alien from Mars, anything,” were the instructions from Ms. Dwyer, a former elementary school teacher who retired to Shelter Island with her husband years ago. After her husband’s death, she looked for a way to express her passion for education, and founded the 2Rs4Fun program.

She noted that while Shelter Island students get the program for free, her daughter, who lives further west on Long Island, has to pay $800 to send a child to a similar program.

The program here is paid for by a combination of resources — library funding, support from the Shelter Island Educational Foundation and contributions. Ms. Dwyer and her team of mentors work pro bono.

Twice a year, student writings are compiled into booklets.

While Ms. Dwyer has 11 mentors, she needs more volunteers to serve as substitutes when a mentor is unable to make a session. There are some new retirees on the Island who might be looking for something to fill their time, she said, and is hoping some will sign on as substitutes.

No teaching experience is necessary, nor do mentors and substitutes have to have writing experience. They simply need to enjoy working with students and encouraging them to free themselves of the restraints to express themselves through self-crafted stories.

Not only were the students creative in writing about their lives or stories drawn from their imaginations, but they weren’t shy about reading their work. Climbing up on a high chair, they appeared to enjoy the limelight.

There were tales of a great horned owl, unicorns, an animal with the body of a turtle but the head of an elephant, a Nintendo Switch game and an imaginative tale by one student about his mom’s birthday.

As a treat at the end of each session, former teacher and now mentor Frank Emmett reads from “The Tale of Despereaux,” bringing his acting skills to bear. The students each received a copy of the book and were encouraged to read the first three chapters so they can discuss their reactions at the next session.

Student participants this semester are 3rd graders Lydia Brigham, Makala Cronin, Nathaniel Overstreet, Lily Potter, Danielle Rasmussen, Ryan Sanwald and Liam Sobetana. The 4th grade students are Sadie Green Clark, Abraham Roig, Ari Waife and Evan Weslek.

Mentors, in addition to Mr. Emmett, are Mollie Numark, Mary Ann Moderelli, Joe Messing, Reverend Charles McCarron, Paulann Sheets, Jane Gereghty, Margaret Colligan, Laurie Dobson, Jim Gereghty and Wade Badger.

If you’re interested in volunteering as a mentor or substitute or contributing funds to support the program, Ms. Dwyer can be reached at (631) 749-1987.

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