Reader leaders mentor younger students on ride home

TONEY, Ala. - While the wheels on the bus go round and round, the pages of the book are being read and turned. Anyone who's ridden a school bus, and most of us have, knows it can get rather loud. Nikki Bruder drives one of the buses that picks students up and takes them home from Madison Crossroads Elementary School in Harvest.

It can be challenging keeping an eye on the road and on the kids. “A bus driver is not the easiest job you can have,” Principal Linda Arrendondo told us. So she wasn’t surprised when she heard what happened on Ms. Bruder’s bus. As Nikki puts it, she redirected a 5th graders behavior by having him move up front. But what he did next made her heart smile.

“He just sat in the front seat and he got out a book and he started to read to a little kindergartner,” she said with a smile. “And the kindergartner's face just lit up. He was just so excited that that big kid 5th grader was reading a book to him.”

Nikki took a picture and sent it to her assistant principal before posting it on Facebook. That 5th grader is 10 year old Isaiah. “I was just feeling it that day and I was like you know the kids, they need to have a good education and I decided to read one to one of them,” he told me. Wise words from the kid who was the top reader in his school last year.

That one moment is changing lives. Nikki made a signup sheet. “Every time I ask who wants to sign up for reader leader I have at least 20 hands go up,” she said. She also asked teachers if they’d be willing to donate some books for kids to use on the bus. “I’ve even got like second graders asking can I be a reader leader and wanting to read to little kids so it’s really cool,” Nikki said.

Each day, she pairs older students with younger kids for the ride home. “The qualities that builds in those older students mentoring younger students, the younger students are getting the model of a fluent reader,” Linda said. It’s enough to make a principal proud. “It really is,” she said. “And you can imagine that a program like that really cuts down on the discipline that you might have otherwise.”

Kids are mentoring kids. It helps build their confidence as role models. “They feel like I am a leader. I’m reading to these little kids. They look up to me,” Nikki told us. And it’s all happening because of a 10-year-old who shared his love of reading. “I cannot take credit for anything because he started this,” Nikki said laughing. “He is amazing.” Isaiah gave her an idea. She put it into action.

And there’s no doubt who’s at the top of the class on Ms. Bruder’s bus. You could call Isaiah the president of the Reader Leader group. “I told him you are the Reader Leader President,” Nikki said with a smile. “I’m just managing it.” And he’s confident he can do the job. “I am,” Isaiah said. “And it feels good sometimes.”

The school is hoping to get other bus drivers to adopt the reader leader idea on their routes. But what’s even more exciting, Nikki Bruder tells us she’s going back to school to be a teacher.