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December 19, 2011

Volunteers Help San Mateo Students Master Reading Skills

It’s a typical Wednesday morning inside the Reading Partners classroom at San Mateo Park Elementary School. There are four students seated at desks working diligently to improve their literacy skills.

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 four students, like 57 others at San Mateo Park Elementary, 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.

The students, whose reading levels are between one half a year to 2.5 years behind their peers, attend 45-minute tutoring sessions twice a week, said Nancy Basore, the Reading Partners Senior Site Coordinator for San Mateo Park Elementary School.

Basore, who is a former elementary school teacher, began volunteering as a tutor with Reading Partners several years ago. Like other volunteers, she believed that helping disadvantaged children gain critical literacy skills had the power to change their lives for the better.

Proud Benyasri, a college student who tutors a second grade San Mateo Park Elementary student twice a week, said seeing her student grow as a reader has been rewarding.

“I really enjoy tutoring my student and it made me proud when she learned something new,” Benyasri said.

Benyasri, who has been tutoring the student for nearly three months, initially began tutoring as part of one of her college classes. She found working with the student so rewarding that she plans to continue working with the student after the class ends.

30 percent of the volunteer tutors for the Reading Partners program at San Mateo Park Elementary are college students like Benyasri. Four percent are high school students. The rest are a mix of fulltime parents, retirees, and working professionals in the community.

Basore said that even with the help of the 85 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,” Basore 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. It’s really fun,” said Benyasri.

Vincent Ware, San Mateo Patch / Source

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