Gas board staff boost North Mon literacy

GAS board staff will be reading more than meters over the next six months as they devote their energy to help local children improve their literacy skills.

The pupils of Scoil Mhuire Fatima in the North Monastery on Cork’s northside are to benefit from the voluntary assistance of 10 Bord Gáis employees. At their first reading session yesterday, second class pupil Adam Conway and Bord Gáis grid control worker Joseph Greene were knuckling down to Horrid Henry Gets Rich Quick.

“In my old school, people knew stories about Horrid Henry so I picked this one. I read a lot, I just finished my last book, it was a fact file about dinosaurs,” said the young Manchester United fan.

Joseph explained he decided to get involved because he has an eight-year-old son who he helps with reading at home.

His colleague, senior markets analyst Ann-Marie Colbert was going through a book about animals — Who Eats Who in Grasslands? — with eight-year-old Brendan Buckley who thinks the reading support programme is a good idea.

“We’ve found out in this book about anacondas and the food chain. I read some books, I read about Star Wars and some of the Beast Quest books,” said Brendan.

“I like animals, but not the ones in this book, they’d be too loud to keep at home,” he said.

The Time to Read programme is being funded by the Bord Gáis Foundation, which supports a number of charity and voluntary groups, and also involves staff from companies helping out five other schools in Dublin, Wicklow and Mayo. It is aimed at increasing the confidence and enjoyment of reading for children, with volunteers acting as reading mentors to seven and eight-year-old children.

Children from disadvantaged areas are less likely to have access to books at home and Irish research shows that one-in-three have serious literacy problems, but a Department of Education grant three years ago helped put €20,000 of books into the classrooms and a new library at Scoil Mhuire Fatima.

Principal Con Higgins said a number of support projects already focus on children with weaker literacy but there is not much extra help for pupils with average reading skills who do not pick up books as much.

“We’ve had a buddy scheme for a few years, where sixth class boys help second class pupils by listening to them read for 15 minutes a day.

“Now there are queues to buy books from the book club that visits us a few times a year, which had very poor take-up at the start,” Mr Higgins said.

Time to Read is one of a number of social inclusion initiatives managed by Business in the Community Ireland, a network of some of the country’s biggest companies dedicated to corporate responsibility.

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