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August 21, 2019

Every hour empowers: The difference volunteers can make during back to school season

As summer begins to cool down, kids across the country are gearing up for another busy school year. For many students, transitioning from long, warm days in the sun back into a routine of classes and homework can be daunting. That’s why having a volunteer tutor’s support at the beginning of the school year is so important to set the tone for a successful learning journey. 

Individualized attention by volunteer tutors plays a vital role in students’ academic development. Support from a reading partner right at the outset not only advances their literacy skills but also helps them gain more confidence at a challenging time.

Why is the beginning of the school year so important?

The start of every school year can be an exciting, but turbulent time for students. When kids go back to school, they are confronted with new routines, teachers, classrooms, and social settings. With all this change, it can be difficult to focus on academics and make up for any lost ground from the summer months.

Having a tutor around to provide mentorship and reading support during this transition time can have a big impact on kids’ academic and personal lives. The presence of a mentor helps students understand and tackle a new curriculum by breaking down tasks into more manageable chunks. This individualized support helps students who were once struggling become proud, confident readers, setting them up for success throughout the school year.

Consistent support from tutors can lead to skill growth in other areas like social-emotional learning (SEL) and promote additional gains in reading compared to peer groups. Developed SEL skills lead to greater empathy and more positive relationships in school and beyond. On top of improved well-being, findings went on to prove that students in our program had significant gains in test scores, as well.

An independent study led by Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates (APA) found that, on average, students who participated in Reading Partners program during one year had significantly higher spring assessment scores compared to similar nonparticipant students. For each additional tutoring session a student received, there was a small, statistically significant positive effect. It was particularly effective for English Language Learner (ELL) students, who showed more growth and achieved higher spring assessment scores than non-ELL peers in the program. 

tutor and student in classroom

Now that you know that our program works, can we count on you to join us this fall?

It takes the support of thousands of volunteer reading partners to offer a successful program model to over 11,000 students across the country. And with the beginning of the school year being our busiest time, we need all the help we can get to make sure these kids are feeling well supported and ready to learn.

If you’re already a Reading Partners volunteer, signing up for weekly tutoring is simple. You will receive an email from us asking to confirm your interest and schedule your first session. 

If you’re a brand new tutor—and maybe as nervous as a student on the first day of school—don’t worry, we have some tips to get you started after you sign up to volunteer and complete your orientation:

Arrive at least 15 minutes early to your first session

This will give you some time to get to know your site coordinator, sign any remaining paperwork, and get familiar with new resources available in the reading center.

Introduce yourself to other volunteer tutors

Start the year right by making connections with other tutors. They can offer great tips on how to navigate the classroom environment, and you may even become friends in the process. Learning together is a great way of building lasting relationships.

Your site coordinator is there to help you every step of the way

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your site coordinator during your tutoring session. Whether you have questions about the curriculum or need any help redirecting a student’s attention, we’re a team and we’re there to support each other.

Review the student’s box and curriculum materials

Arriving early will also allow you time to go over the materials in your student’s box. Materials in student boxes are subjected to change from year-to-year, so it’s important to review the materials before your session starts. You can identify specific skills to focus on with your student, review tutor notes, and see where to start in the day’s lesson.

Get to know your student

This is an important part of your session. Plan to get to know your student over time. As you learn more about each other, your student will likely get more comfortable reading and working with you. Ask questions about the student’s interests and habits, but steer away from making assumptions about their lives and experiences. Our students come from diverse backgrounds and cultures, so you might learn something new if you listen closely. 

Volunteers are the heart and soul of Reading Partners’ work, and we’re here to orient you every step of the way. Your support, even for as little as an hour a week, empowers students and helps unlock their full potential. 

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