Making Children's Eyes Light Up through Experience Corps
by Janet Triplett, Experience Corps, Minnesota
Katannah Day, a retired graphic arts instructor, heads to a Minneapolis school three days a week to tutor in a first-grade classroom.
“It seems like such a waste to retire and do nothing more with my experience,” Day says. “Being in the classroom is a way to share both professional and personal skills. The kids benefit from this extra help and encouragement, and so do I!”
Experience Corps, an award-winning national program in 23 cities across the country, engages people 50+ in addressing the need for greater literacy. In the Twin Cities, Experience Corps is sponsored by Volunteers of America – Minnesota. The agency trains tutors and places them in partnering schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Volunteers work four to fifteen hours per week tutoring students from kindergarten to third grade, under the supervision of classroom teachers. Individuals who tutor 10 or 15 hours per week receive a small stipend.
Tutoring children in school isn’t new, but educators need to know if it really helps in critical areas like reading. Now, rigorous new research from Washington University in St. Louis shows that tutoring can provide significant gains. The study examined more than 800 first to third graders—half with tutors from Experience Corps, half without—at 23 elementary schools in three cities. Researchers found that students with Experience Corps’ tutors made over 60% more progress in learning two critical reading skills—sounding out new words and comprehending material—than similar students that the program did not serve.
“This research shows that Experience Corps’ tutors
can increase students’ reading skills,” said Jean Grossman, an expert in evaluating research design at Princeton University and Public/Private Ventures. “
That finding is great news for parents, children, educators and the many people of all ages who want to respond to President Obama’s call to service and who want to know that their efforts will make a significant difference.”
Most Experience Corps members feel that they reap as many benefits as the students that they tutor. Another aspect of Washington University’s study assessed the impact of Experience Corps on its members. Compared to adults of similar age, demographics and volunteering history, Experience Corps’ tutors reported improvements in mental health and physical functioning, including mobility, stamina and flexibility, and they maintained overall health longer. Tutors also indicated that they participated in more physical activity, had larger social networks and maintained higher self-esteem as a result of their participation.
Linda Sommer-Love has tutored with Experience Corps for two years. She says, “In September, Sharon couldn’t read or write. She didn’t know the letters of the alphabet. Most times her eyes were dark with sadness and a lack of pride in herself. We have worked together all year. I continued to tell her, ‘I believe you can do it!’ Her skills and confidence grew. She has a long way to go; after all, she’s only five years old. But I feel good when I see her eyes light up!”