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Volunteers Help Redwood City Students Master Reading Skills

Reading Partners provides tutoring for students at local elementary school.

Volunteer Judy Saunder's tutee was acting out again, pretending like he couldn't understand the words on the page. But Saunders knew better. The Palo Alto High senior knew that the third grader had the capability to read at grade level if she could just convey to him that she wasn't going to leave him.

"I sat him down one day and firmly told him, 'I come here every week because I want you to learn to read. I know you can do it, so I'm not going anywhere,'" Saunders said.

And with several sessions of tutoring, her mentee was able to achieve proficiency.

Reading well is thought to be a significant predictor of success in school. It is this belief that drives Reading Partners as an organization. It’s also why many of its volunteer tutors have chosen to work with children inside this Reading Partners classroom.

These students, like 77 others at and , are pulled out of their regular classrooms to receive one-on-one reading help from Reading Partners.

“We pair volunteer tutors from the community with children who are struggling with reading,” said Marta Robinson, the Reading Partners Outreach Coordinator for Silicon Valley.

Reading Partners, a literacy nonprofit organization, operates with a simple philosophy – students struggling with reading get extra support that enables them to catch up with their peers who are reading at or above grade level.

Robinson said their research shows that as little as 25 hours of tutoring can help some students advance their reading skills an entire grade level.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade are identified by their teachers as students who could benefit from the one-on-one approach that Reading Partners provides.

Saunders said seeing her student grow as a reader has been rewarding.

"I just love the kids," Saunders said. "I love seeing them learn.

Saunders, who has been tutoring for about a year and a half, initially began tutoring as a way to give back.

Just 4 percent of the volunteer tutors for the Reading Partners program at Redwood City schools are high school students like Saunders. Thirty percent are college students. The rest are a mix of fulltime parents, retirees, and working professionals in the community.

Robinson said that even with the help of the 114 dedicated volunteers who tutor the children at San Mateo Park Elementary, Reading Partners are still not able to help as many children as need help.

“We are always looking for new tutors,” Robinson said.

Those wishing to help disadvantaged children develop their reading skills need to be at least 14 years of age. Volunteers are asked to work as tutors one or two days a week.

Robinson said that those able to volunteer twice a week work exclusively with one student. But those who come in once a week will be half of a volunteer tutoring team that works with a student. 

“Once you commit, we ask that you commit to the end of the semester,” Robinson said. “We would love to have tutors stay to the end of the school year, but we understand that schedules change and things get busy.”

Robinson said that tutors receive training on how to tutor using a curriculum that was developed at Stanford University.

“It is very easy to follow so none of our tutors are creating their own curriculum or lesson plans,” Robinson said.

Robinson said working as a Reading Partners volunteer tutor is a great way for community members to help children gain the literacy skills they need to be successful students.

Not only do the children benefit, volunteers get the satisfaction of knowing they are helping children in the community.

“I love it," Saunders said. "It’s really fun and you know you're making a difference."

To learn more about volunteer opportunities or how to donate new and gently used books, visit ReadingPartners.org.

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Jack Hickey March 04, 2012 at 06:59 PM
My first thought was "how wonderful". Then I saw their financials! In 2011 they received $623,429 in government grants. That's taxpayer dollars! Does this show up in the District's budget?
Michelle Cale March 05, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Jack, I think the majority of this federal money relates to Americorps. Reading Partners is an official Americorps program, using the money to pay the salaries and benefits of those it recruits to fill reading center supervisor positions (mostly). Their website says they have 65 school served in five states, so that's a lot of people. I have been a volunteer reading tutor with Reading Partners for three years in Mountain View and now in Sunnyvale.
Jack Hickey March 05, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Michelle, I applaud you and the other volunteers. As a taxpayer's advocate, I am interested in the total funding of our government schools. Apparently, the Federal tax dollars funding this effort do not appear in the District's budget.
Michelle Cale March 05, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Hi Jack, I think that is probably true, as the Americorps money goes to Reading Partners and is not channeled through the school districts. What is your general view of the level of funding that schools get?
Jack Hickey March 05, 2012 at 11:25 PM
I think that it would be more than adequate if districts could get out from under the archaic education code, ill advised categorical programs and unsustainable union benefits. Increased class sizes, populated by students who "want" to be there and who have their parents support would drastically reduce the cost. Encouraging alternative education providers to lease excess classroom space would further enhance their financial situation.

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