Help with reading: Gaps due to Corona: Children urgently need reading helpers

Ruhr area.
Corona has shrunk the “Mentor” association, while the need among school children has grown at the same time: Reading helpers are urgently needed!

Miral is pretty out of breath right now, but he is sitting very still. The nine-year-old doesn’t run, he reads. Every few syllables he has to take a deep breath, “the United Na …” – deep breath – “tions” have the children’s rights “to -…” – heavy gasping – “-written”. Miral doesn’t make any mistakes, he gets the word monsters down quickly, but everyone can hear that it’s a fight. Fortunately, there is nobody to hear it, that makes it easier. Only his colleague in a duel with the text: Reading assistant Elke Döring.

The 65-year-old’s weapons are patience, affection – and time. Once a week Elke Döring sits down with this child in his empty classroom and lets him read. “Trust me” is written on Miral’s sweater today, “Trust me”, and maybe that’s all there is to it about the relationship between these two: Trust grows audible self-confidence. Elke Döring has helped many a child on their way through life by teaching them to read – or at least sorting out the alphabet salad in their head. “A wonderful honorary position.”

Mentors are “traded like jewels”

The former banker is now coordinating colleagues at the “Mentor” association in Bochum. For this, the association, which set out to improve children’s reading skills almost 20 years ago, has long since needed its own people. They have become so many, they have organized themselves in twelve cities in and around the Ruhr area, but there are still too few of them to fill the learning gaps: too many elementary school students who cannot read properly, too few who do it on their own Read drive. The mentors, says the headmaster Mario Zappalà in Bochum, replace “what school and parents can no longer do”. They are the ones who sit down, listen, encourage them to browse: a reading role model, only for this one child.

Which is why they are “traded like jewels”, as Bochum’s chairwoman Heidrun Abel says. Not only with the teachers, who are literally begging for reading helpers: only recently, a teacher selected four out of twelve children with urgent needs in order to get support for only one. Even with the children: They are already negotiating in the school yard who is allowed to take over the mentor when the child they are taking care of moves to secondary school. A person who comes just for me! Having a “reading grandma” like Elke Döring is considered a reward, a privilege.

In the corona lockdown, the learning gaps grew for many children

Alone, Corona has recently opened up large holes: Learning aids, mostly older people who have already retired from working life, no longer dare to go to schools for fear of infection. The 90-year-old, who came back after two months full of longing for the children, was an exception. At the same time, however, the lockdown increased the number of children who have lost touch. Heidrun Abel says that “large gaps arose”, especially for those who were not or only difficult to reach online, or where parents could not help. Second graders who returned to school after a month-long break are said to be actually first graders: You have to put it that way, they simply couldn’t learn to read.

Anyway, says Mario Zappalà, Rector of the sun school in Bochum-Weitmar, “the children grow up in another world”. More and more computer games, “social” media and texts only on the tablet, fewer and fewer families in which people still read, in which there are still books at all. “The demands are getting higher and higher.” But what happens to a little person who doesn’t even know what kind of treasure a book can be? Who doesn’t develop a fantasy because he doesn’t know any stories; cannot think of life goals because he has never heard from others? For this reason alone, says Zappalà, the mentors are “an indispensable part of the school”. He has seen the progress children make, how they are amazed that they can suddenly read, and notice: “Something happens to me.” One of Heidrun Abel’s favorite sentences fits: “Without reading skills, education doesn’t work.”

Miral (9) can now even scan texts – and capture them

In the penguin class today, Miral bends over “Greg’s Diary”, Volume 2; it says “Are there any problems?”. The nine-year-old came from Syria with his parents when he was little. His little sister will be waiting in front of the door, she would also like to be a mentor child. Miral is sitting in the middle of the empty room, the mask on his face, he skewers the words with his index finger and takes a deep breath. “Slowly!” Warns Elke Döring. This poster hangs in front of the blackboard: “What children’s ears need:“ I believe in you. Well done … “Otherwise Miral sits here with children named Paula and Leon, but also Elif and Yusuf, maybe they laugh sometimes when he reads so breathlessly.

Elke Döring also laughs, but only at the raccoon that recently ate the bird food in her garden and at the joke of the week that is in the children’s newspaper. Today it also says something about children’s rights, and afterwards there is a quiz: “Boys have more rights than girls.” Right? Miral shakes her head violently. However, it is mentioned that children are allowed to go to their parents when they are worried, or to their teacher, “or to their reading mentors,” says Elke Döring. Caught, Miral looks a little indignant: “Where does that say?”

“Have fun reading, Miral!”

He has not read it anywhere, although it seems to be true. He’s just read what happened to Greg last week, he’d forgotten about it. Fly over quickly, he would not have been able to do that months ago. Do you have any books at home, Miral? “Yes”, the boy beams, “Greg’s diary number 1”. He’s already done that with Elke Döring. Miral has to slow it down today, “only one more side, but then it’s over”. Then put the self-painted bookmark in the book: “Have fun reading, Miral!”


There are now twelve clubs in the Ruhr Mentor Network – in Bochum,Bottrop, Dortmund, Ennepetal, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Gevelsberg, Hattingen, Herne, Schwelm, Sprockhövel and Witten. The first was the club in 2007 Bochum, which is still the largest today is. There are still no mentoring associations in the west of the area: Duisburg, Oberhausen, Mülheim.

In July 2020, the network counted 1400 mentors in almost 200 schools. Around ten percent gave up their voluntary work in the Corona crisis, a quarter is currently on pause. People who would like to get involved need only one regular hour a weekto read with a child at their school. Pedagogical training is not necessary. Contact: Network Mentor-Ruhr, Kortumstraße 37, 44787 Bochum, Tel. 0234 – 89 01 31 39.

on all clubs are listed with their respective contact persons.

You can find more articles from this category here: Rhine and Ruhr

Leave a Comment