Gracie Filler presents the end-of-the-senester Reading Buddies book projects at the Boulder Public Library. Photo by Hattie Poole.
“The middle of nowhere,” is how sophomore Gracie Filler described the location of the children’s camp she helped host in the summer between her junior and senior year of high school. Tucked in the rural mountains of Costa Rica, Filler fell in love with teaching while working with leaders from Rustic Pathway, a global teen adventure travel and community service program, to plan activities and run a summer camp for local students.
“I was able to work with the kids,” said Filler. “Everyday one of the adults with us would teach an English lesson. We each got to take a turn helping the adults teach. For me, that was the moment when I realized I wanted to teach kids, and I wanted to work with kids.”
Two years later, Filler is in her second year of the School of Education’s first Elementary Education major cohort and is an intern for Reading Buddies. A program at the Boulder Public Library, Reading Buddies pairs CU Boulder undergraduate students with kindergarten through third graders to increase children’s interest in books, reading and writing. Filler discovered the program in an introductory education class her first year, and over the course of each semester, she and her buddy write and illustrate a book together.
Gracie Filler with her reading buddy Harper. Photo by Hattie Poole.
“You bond with [the kids], and you make a book with them that you present at the end of the semester,” Filler said “I’ll never forget my first buddy, Sammy. He wrote me letters, brought me cookies.
Although Filler was only required to attend Reading Buddies once a week, she opted to go in an extra day to help the director. When Filler learned the director, Mary, was moving out of state and wanted Filler to stay on as an intern to help run the program, she did not hesitate to say ‘yes.’
As an intern, Filler helps run and organize the program while building her skills on working with kids.
“Mary always told me that I connected really well with the kids. That's another reason I stayed. She saw something in me. I can help the program grow, and I love doing it,” Filler said.
Aside from Filler’s administrative responsibilities, she still works one-on-one with a reading buddy of her own, Harper.
“She’s got quite a strong personality— I love her,” Filler said. “With reading buddies, I’ve learned that having activities that are interactive really help kids, especially with the younger grades.”
Filler hopes to work with first or second graders after she graduates. But working with reading buddies is not always simply piecing together tales of dogs fighting off space cats or writing reports on facts about airports— some of Filler’s projects with buddies.
We have a child who has told me that he likes school because it's the only place he feels safe. I think education is good in that way." — Gracie Filler
Her experience working with Reading Buddies and in her practicum courses in the Boulder Valley School District has led her to recognize that being a teacher is about more than intellectual development.
“When you’re a teacher, it’s hard. It’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “[In class] we talk about how to talk to kids about hard topics. Teachers have to know how to create a safe space for kids to share things and know that they are all allowed to have differing opinions.”
But Filler is ready for the challenge.
“My aunt, a teacher, always told me that as teachers, we have the chance to change a life,” said Filler. “And that always stuck with me because I really want that chance to change a little kid’s life.”