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Highland Elementary Volunteer Teaches Students to Love Reading

Timothy McDonel is also a grandparent figure some of the second-graders might not have at home.

Editor’s note: The McDonels both make time to give back to their community. This profile highlights some of the volunteer work that Timothy McDonel does. Check back next week for a profile on Ruth Dever McDonel.

Timothy McDonel said he doesn’t view the hours he spends reading with second graders at Highland Drive Elementary School volunteer work.

He enjoys it too much to call it that.

McDonel worked at B.F. Goodrich and Michelin in research and development and is now retired. And most people know him through his work with the Brecksville Kiwanis. He has been reading with students at the school for years.

He started as a volunteer for OhioReads, a program where community members read to students. When the funding was cut, many of the other volunteers switched to tutoring, but McDonel said that wasn’t a good fit for him. He enjoyed getting to work with all the students, rather than just one or two. So he asked Barb Petsche if her class could just keep on reading.

Petsche enthusiastically agreed.

“The children absolutely adore him,” Petsche said.  

McDonel acts as a role model, she said, giving many of the students a grandparent figure they might not have at home. He visits twice a week—every Tuesday and Thursday—and two students each get to leave class for about half an hour for some reading. The program doesn't single out any children for extra help or enrichment. It's for everyone, and every student gets a turn throughout the year.

McDonel always tells the students that they’ll have to help him read, Petsche said—he's not just reading to them. They're reading together.

McDonel said he enjoys seeing the students progress throughout the year, choosing more complicated books.

“It helps the children learn to like to read,” said Ruth Dever McDonel, Timothy’s wife.

After the students get back, they have to take a test—and they always pass, Petsche said. He gives them that confidence. Throughout the year, the students often write him letters and make him books. Petsche called McDonel "a gem," saying she's felt blessed to have him as part of her classroom.

McDonel said one of the reasons he likes volunteering is that he gets to do what he enjoys—it’s not an obligation. 

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