Story Time Project: From Spreadsheets to Story Books

By Sophie Larsen

I love spreadsheets. More than interpreting ones made by others, I love alphabetizing, prioritizing, and constructing my own – anything to increase systematic efficiency in my work. When last year’s intern Haya Jamali warned me that the matching process for Story Time was by far the hardest part of the job I thought, “Bring it on.” Because after all, how hard could it really be to match Whitman volunteers with preK-2nd grade classrooms around Walla Walla? As it turns out, really really hard.

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I must have logged over 20 hours fall semester trying to match 76 readers (Story Time volunteers) with 20 community partners in 8 different locations. To wrap my head around this daunting task, I had to prioritize student information: access to a car and ability to speak Spanish were the most “valuable” qualities in a reader because they could travel to faraway locations like Berney Elementary or the Walla Walla Pediatric Clinic and read in bilingual settings. After I matched these “high-priority” readers, I looked at partner requests. Many new and returning readers preferenced a specific reading partner, which usually made my job a lot easier. One less partner match to make. Unfortunately, there were many instances in which these partners had no over-lapping available time slots. In addition, many volunteers had changed their schedule since filling out the survey monkey application and could no longer make the commitment. I became very frustrated and doubted my ability to successfully finish the matching process.

Fast forwarded to February. Oh boy; it’s time to match again. Only a lot has changed since last semester. With flexibility from my readers and support of the Community Service staff, all 76 readers began reading in October. Readers now come in and out of the Student Engagement Center to browse the Story Time library and pick their favorite childhood stories to share with their classrooms. Seeing my spreadsheets come to life is truly satisfying. I look forward to matching not because it’s a challenge to conquer, but a means to send dedicated volunteers out into Walla Walla to promote early literacy around and form meaningful relationships with community members, big and small.

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Learn more about the Story Time Project.

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