Buena Park teacher celebrates 25 years of reading to children during summer breaks

Longtime teacher Leslee Milch reads to students and families during summer breaks at Bellis Park in Buena Park.

This June marked the 25th year of teacher Leslee Milch reading to hundreds of children each week, as her commitment to students doesn’t end when summer break begins. 

Milch, a National Board Certified teacher, who has taught for 30 years in the Buena Park School District, was compelled to create the Read to Me program after one of her students asked who would read to him during the summer months because his parents were not able to.

“I felt like I owed it to the kids,” said Milch, a transitional kindergarten teacher at Gilbert Elementary. “So I took my chair, a bag of books and a healthy snack one afternoon a week during the summer and read to the children who came to the park adjacent to my school.”

Leslee Milch read to students during the pandemic
Milch read to students from a safe distance during the pandemic to help students feel connected while they learned remotely.

Word spread about what Milch was doing, and the group of 10 students who walked or took public transportation each week to hear her read grew to a hundred students. While she reads, the teacher also engages children in conversations about the books and plays word games with them.

“I’m just thrilled that they’re out of the house, not on their phones and technology devices,” said Milch. “It has never crossed my mind to end this program. This is the highlight of my summer.”

The longtime educator believes it’s important for families to mitigate learning loss during the summer by speaking to their children about back-to-school routines, reading, enrolling them into summer academic camps and continuing to set early bedtimes.

Today, her program has grown with different organizations and businesses wanting to help her mission of keeping students engaged and connected to school.

Reading with Me program flyer

The Buena Park City Library District brings books to the park each week so children can check them out, and it provides prizes for students who complete a certain milestone. Premier Chevrolet of Buena Park, which neighbors Gilbert Elementary, provides pizzas for the kids who attend. Milch also works with America on Track, an organization that partners with several Orange County school districts to support students and families with health care, nutrition, and drug awareness and parenting classes.

“Read with Me has continued to grow throughout the years and is an incredibly special and impactful program for students,” interim Superintendent Dr. Yvette Cantu said. “Thank you to Mrs. Milch for her inspirational dedication and willingness to selflessly devote her time to our students.”

Milch’s last summer reading event will be held Wednesday, July 12 at 1p.m. at Bellis Park in Buena Park. The teacher wants to inspire other educators to join her in promoting literacy and connections to school, along with getting more children to read.