This month, we are spotlighting the programs at the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, New York. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Matthew Budd, the director of community action.
Julia: Can you tell me a bit about your experience with Sweet Readers?
Mr. Budd: I learned about Sweet Readers about four years ago. I then reached out to Karen Young to discuss what Sweet Readers programs could look like in our middle school. Sweet Readers serves as an amazing opportunity to tap into our own community and connect with different outside communities. Sweet Readers is such a great fit for us because it taps into our goal of equity and health wellness. It also serves as a way for students to take ownership of their experiences. Three years ago, when we first partnered up with Sweet Readers and we worked with the New York Memory Center, our students went every day for two weeks—it was really just a fantastic experience and opportunity. The kids were so impacted, and all of the adults with whom they partnered felt the same. It was an exciting time for even the faculty advisors of the program. They would come and tell me highlights and different stories from the day. Since then, we have continued to find ways to keep the programs going remotely. Last year we moved beyond just the 8th grade and started working with the 7th grade as well.
Julia: The theme for this month is gratitude, so what (if anything) about what you saw in your SR program made you feel a sense of gratitude?
Mr. Budd: So Much! I feel gratitude that so much of the program is student-led by high school students. I also feel grateful that the middle schoolers are doing something that feels meaningful to them. They are not in any way going through the motions or doing something they don’t want to do. Sweet Readers gives them purpose and passion and even helps them gain a sense of their own leadership skills. I am grateful that we found incredible community partners and that we have been able to work with them throughout COVID-19. The online Sweet Readers programs have truly expanded our circle. We even got the opportunity to work with homes in the west which was completely amazing. And honestly, I am really grateful that Karen is so dedicated to doing all this work and is right there hand in hand with all the student leaders and not just putting all of the work to the side. What makes Sweet Readers so special is that it is truly passion-driven.
Julia: What kind of behind-the-scenes work does it take to maintain your involvement with Sweet Readers and run the programs at Berkely Carroll?
Mr. Budd: It takes a lot! Scheduling is always tricky. We have a pretty set schedule for time frames and when things can start and end. We also have a set schedule with the availability of space. We have to take the things that are set and try to make them a bit more flexible in order to make the programs work. The next big thing is just going with the flow, especially with the way we are using technology now. There are times when the audio or video don’t work, so we have to troubleshoot. Another piece of behind the scenes work for us is finding a team of teachers who are excited about this work. We really try to make sure our faculty is excited about the work.
Julia: Why do you think that Sweet Reader programs thrive at Berkeley Carroll? What is it about the school environment that enables these programs to be successful?
Mr. Budd: One part is that the program’s alumni—all the students that have participated in the past—are really a representation of the power of Sweet Readers. They will ask us to continue the program each year and make sure that it impacts the next kids just as it did to them. Last year we had our 7th graders write letters to the incoming grade. This created a tradition of the program. I think that our leadership also contributes to the success. The director and assistant director of the middle school are really helpful. Another reason is all the amazing teachers who volunteer to help facilitate.
Julia: What do the programs (or Sweet Readers in general) mean to you personally?
Mr. Budd: I don’t have a history personally related to having older people in my life who are struggling with Alzheimer’s or dementia. However, Sweet Readers becomes really meaningful to me when I see how much of an impact it has on the students. It is so amazing to see how moved and appreciative they are to have the opportunity to connect with new people. I remember a student from last year saying that they can better understand how to communicate and talk to their uncle with Alzheimer’s. It’s so meaningful to me because it helps us teach the students about the world and give them the tools they need to be more educated members of the community.
Julia: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Mr. Budd: I want to make it clear how much I really love what Sweet Readers does: what it does for our students in learning how to be more independent, communicative, and collaborative—all qualities we try to teach them in the classroom. I also just love the flexibility of Sweet Readers and how much time and effort is put into each and every program.