Buddy up for literacy

Hannah Behlmann works with a student

The newest buddy system in Columbia Public Schools connects college juniors with first grade students for mutual growth and learning.

Angie Zapata, associate professor of literacy in the MU College of Education.
Angie Zapata

The latest hands-on learning experience for future educators is a program called “Tiger Reading Buddies.” Tiger Reading Buddies one-on-one reading assessment and instruction was designed by Angie Zapata, associate professor of Language and Literacies Education in the Department of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum and coordinated by Nicole Bliven. The program is funded by the Literacy Path Forward initiative from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Dr. Lydia Walker Faculty Fellowship in Reading and Literacy.

Nicole Bliven
Nicole Bliven


“This type of practice model helps pre-service teachers realize the complexity of teaching reading to a classroom full of students with various instructional needs,” said Zapata. “The research shows that these intensive, reading-focused experiences will influence their future teaching in the classroom, so we really appreciate the host teachers and administrators in Columbia Public Schools for their partnership.”

The host teacher sees benefits as well. The children develop positive attachments to reading, and many of the host teachers receive individualized data reports that can be used to inform future instruction.

“Over the six weeks we spent with our buddies, we did a variety of activities ranging from phonics instruction to fluency testing, and then we used all of our data to write our final case study report,” said Brynn Witt, whose buddy was a first-grade student at Fairview Elementary. “It amazed me that these kids are able to pick up lots of knowledge in a short period of time.”

“I was so excited to see my buddy every week because he was always full of joy and ready to learn. He taught me something different about Minecraft every week,” said Sophia Marshall, who mentored a student at Parkade Elementary School. “He was so engaging with the activities we did every week, and I learned how I could better help him. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn so much and grow as an educator.”

Kaylin Blair and a Fairview student work on reading as part of the Tiger Reading Buddies program.
Megan Keehnast and Angie Zapata work on words with a Fairview student.
Dr. Angie Zapata speaks to Emma Fadin as part of the Tiger Buddies Reading program.