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February 24, 2015

Despite Busy Schedules, Students Find Time to Volunteer

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Despite their time-crunched schedules, students make up some of our most committed volunteers. Somehow between schoolwork, jobs, and internships, students find time to make a difference.

To Rachel Hutton, a sophomore at Stanford University and longtime volunteer reading partner, volunteering is important because it offers a sense of empowerment. “It makes you feel like you’re doing something,” she says. “I was always raised with the value that giving back to the community is important because having a lot means you need to give a lot back.”

Rachel has been tutoring at John Gill Elementary School in Redwood City for four years, since Reading Partners first opened our reading center there. After learning about Reading Partners through a presentation at her high school, she signed up to volunteer and has loved her experience ever since.

An English major and linguistics minor, she was initially intrigued by the idea of using her love of reading in a practical way. “I was a big reader as a kid. What better way to give back than to teach kids myself,” Rachel explains. Having read four books a week as a child, she was eager to show kids how enjoyable reading could be.

When Rachel was a high school junior, her first student was a second grader named Alex. At first Alex was constantly distracted and Rachel had a challenging time keeping his attention on the material. It wasn’t long before she made a breakthrough: she discovered Alex could concentrate better if she agreed to play games at the end of the lesson. One of their favorites was Hangman, using the vocabulary words from the lesson.

After their year together, Alex gave Rachel a cute thank you card with a photograph of the pair playing Hangman. Thanks to Rachel’s dedication and creative solution, Alex is now reading at grade level and ready to start middle school soon.

Now, three years later, Rachel lights up when she talks about Tori, her current student. Rachel describes Tori as an inquisitive student with a “very, very big personality.” Much like Alex, Tori sometimes finds concentrating on lessons difficult. With Rachel’s encouragement, however, both Rachel and Tori already see improvements in Tori’s reading fluency. Rachel comments that her favorite part of tutoring is the visible progress that her students make: “I really like it when they make an improvement that not just I notice, but that they notice too.”

Despite her rigorous school schedule, Rachel continues to tutor at John Gill because she feels connected to the school community and the students there. She often sees students she has tutored in years past; they say hi or run up to hug her in the hallways. Working with children was a big reason why she chose Reading Partners. “They’re the most curious and happiest souls ever,” she says.

We asked Rachel what she would say to anyone considering becoming a reading partner: “Definitely volunteer, first of all. Second of all, best to go into it with an open mind. These kids aren’t here because they’re not smart — there’s lots of reasons why they’re in Reading Partners. Lastly, be patient.”

Anyone 14 years or older can follow Rachel’s lead and sign up to tutor with Reading Partners. Our site coordinators are happy to accommodate shifting school schedules. As little as one hour a week is all it takes to help students like Alex and Tori learn the essential literacy skills they need to succeed in school.

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