Left, volunteer Les Fuchs and student Sair Banos, with Lake Forest Elementary School Principal Harvey Oaxaca. Fuchs and Banos were part of the Reading Buddies program, created by the Sandy Springs Education Force. Through the program, a volunteer reads with a student 30 minutes each week.

Mary Helen Kelly

Last spring, Les Fuchs dropped by Lake Forest Elementary School one day every week. The retired Delta Air Lines pilot would meet fourth grader Sair Banos, and the two of them would head to the school library to read during the student’s lunch period.

Fuchs read aloud from “James and The Giant Peach,” by Roald Dahl, a book Sair chose at the start of the spring semester. Fuchs would read as Sair ate lunch.

As they worked through the book, Fuchs would ask questions: Did Sair know the meaning of difficult words? Did he know the location of events from the story? If not, Fuchs would explain the words or identify the places.

“I love to read myself. And it makes a huge difference in a young person’s life if they develop a love of reading,” Fuchs said.
The two were paired through the Reading Buddies program created by the Sandy Springs Education Force. Through the program, a volunteer reads with a student for 30 minutes every week.

The SSEF brings the program to a principal at a school, finds volunteers, coordinates the schedule, and works with the students the school identifies as candidates for the program.

The program currently operates at Lake Forest Elementary and Ison Springs Elementary. The program is looking to expand next year. To volunteer or learn more, contact the Sandy Springs Education Force at: sandyspringseducationforce.org.

This year marked Fuchs’ first experience with the program. He came to look forward to the weekly meetings. He said he wasn’t sure exactly how he and Sair had been paired, but having a granddaughter the same age as the student helped him relate to the boy.

Fuchs said the program is about more than just reading. It is also about the volunteers’ interactions with the students and “helping them to develop an appreciation and love of reading.” He said he gained as much from the experience as Sair did.

Fuchs recalls one day where part of the story took place in England. Fuchs grabbed a globe and showed Sair the relationship between Atlanta and England to make the story come to life.

They talked about common interests such as roller blading and ice-skating.

At one point, the pair got on the subject of Australia and its indigenous animals. A short time later, Fuchs traveled to Australia and mailed Sair a postcard showing some of the continent’s unique creatures.

Sair recalled the postcard when he spoke at SSEF’s annual breakfast in May about his experience reading with Fuchs. Irene Schweiger, executive director of the nonprofit, said Sair received a standing ovation after his talk, and that for weeks she got calls from people who had been moved by what he had to say.

Fuchs said that although the pair didn’t finish the book, they did spend a lot of time bonding and developing Sair’s reading skills.
At the end of the semester Fuchs bought Sair a book about soccer, a subject Sair enjoyed. Fuchs said he hoped that Sair would read the book over the summer.