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June 24, 2015

Meet Jolene Noel, volunteer, parent, and reading enthusiast

by Becky Chao and Christian Suba

Most kids expect presents during their birthday parties, but Roma had a different idea in mind. Coming from a family of avid readers, Roma and her mother Jolene suggested guests make a donation to Reading Partners instead. The mother-daughter pair hoped to help other children discover a love for reading. Talk to them for a few minutes, and It’s easy to see what inspired their unusual generosity.

Jolene and Roma are true reading enthusiasts — it runs in the family. Growing up in Kansas, Jolene’s favorite book as a child was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. Roma’s great-grandmother is children’s author Judy Hawes, writer of science-themed books such as Fireflies at Night. Jolene and her husband share a beloved nighttime ritual of reading every night with their daughter.

Jolene is a Reading Partners tutor who has seen firsthand how the program transforms students from struggling readers to confident book lovers. She tutors weekly with Reading Partners at Donald J. Meyer Elementary in San Jose and finds the tutoring experience enriching. “The best part of Reading Partners is getting a feel for one-on-one teaching,” she says. “I’m learning a lot and getting a lot out of it.”

After working in the mortgage business, Jolene was looking for a more fulfilling career. Her husband, a high school math and music teacher, suggested she try teaching. As a volunteer preschool art teacher herself, Jolene found the idea of teaching appealing and returned to school at San Jose State University to pursue her teaching credential.

While not all children have been as fortunate as Roma to have been gifted the love of reading from their parents and grandparents, Jolene is doing her part to spread the joy of reading.

Jolene understands that some parents have other constraints that limit reading time with their kids, and she is pleased to provide some additional support where she can. She describes, “Some parents don’t have the time, unfortunately. You have to set aside the time for the kids. There’s a lot of factors.”

Her clear determination to help young students was obvious to Meyer Site Coordinator Marisa Wichelman. Marissa assigned Jolene to tutor Jose*. When Jolene first started working with him, Jose  was experiencing severe disciplinary issues. But that didn’t get in the way of Jolene’s passion to share the joys of reading. Jolene showed up week after week to work with Jose, and soon they built a strong rapport.

She explains, “He has so many things going on in his life that I’m not privy to — you kind of have to try to get into his head.”

Together, they have come to enjoy reading books about a variety subjects, with Jose developing an affinity for scientific topics. Jose actively engages with nonfiction texts and Jolene’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Jolene is a dedicated tutor who gave Jose the consistency he needed,

says Marisa, the site coordinator who has been monitoring their tutoring sessions.

“With Jolene, Jose was able to express his interest in science in an encouraging safe space.”

When asked if she had any words for someone considering volunteering with Reading Partners, Jolene replies, “I would say go for it — do it and be consistent! Make sure you bond with a kid. Spend time with them. Don’t do it halfway. You have a chance to make a difference, at least let them know someone cares for them.”

If you’d like to join Jolene and change the life of a child, consider tutoring with Reading Partners. An hour a week and a strong connection with an adult can make a positive impact on young students like Jose.

*Note: Jose is not the student’s actual name.

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