September 26, 2019
Reading Partners Volunteer Nominated for the San Francisco Giants 2019 Isabelle Lemon Community Spirit Award
Our tutors are our superpower. They make our program run and are the reason for our success. Our team works hard to recruit, onboard, train, and appreciate our volunteers. With over 1,400 weekly volunteers, this is no small task, but some tutors make our jobs easy– tutors like Jennifer Pereira.
We nominated one of our Sanchez tutors, Jennifer Pereira, for this award from the Giants because of Jennifer’s commitment to her students and the meaning she brings to her service. Jennifer has been tutoring with Reading Partners for the last three years. While we ask our tutors to commit just one hour a week, Jennifer commits to volunteering 2-3 sessions a week. This means her student, who also comes to Reading Partners twice a week, gets a consistent, caring, adult role model who shows up for her over and over throughout the school year.
Jennifer and our other volunteer tutors follow a structured curriculum, and deliver prescribed literacy lessons working on hard skills like phonics and comprehension. But the true magic of our program is in the relationships our tutors and students build together.
Last year, Jennifer worked with a kindergarten student Maria* who struggled for months learning her letters. One day, Jennifer said that Maria just took the whiteboard and spelled the word CAT. Jennifer was shocked, but congratulated Maria on being able to spell, and watched as Maria then spelled MAT and BAT immediately. They high fived and were overjoyed in the sudden and immense progress that Maria had made, with her exclaiming “I can spell!” as though she had won the lottery.
Jennifer was not only teaching her students key literacy skills, but also the power of showing up, by being a consistent and positive force for her students. Jennifer had another student, Sophia,* who was a perfectionist and always wanted to do things right the first time. While practicing reading one day, Sophia teared up. She was so frustrated that she didn’t get the word right, she said,
I just want to get it right so that it’s perfect the first time and I don’t have to do it again.
Jennifer told her that mistakes were just opportunities to practice, and that no one gets things right the first time. If we make mistakes, we can get better. A few other adult tutors in the room had overheard, and they voiced their agreement. Sophia, looking around, asked “Really?” And Jennifer assured her that even adults have to practice. They tried the lesson again and Sophia left with a realization much bigger than the words she was learning.
These stories are just a fraction of the impact that Jennifer has made with her students. By showing up, over and over, she is showing her students that she is accountable to them, that they are worth that accountability, and that they can be accountable in turn to others. With her presence, she’s saying,
I’m here because you matter, and you deserve to know the power of words.
We’re lucky to have Jennifer at Reading Partners. Not many of our volunteers are able to commit to their student twice a week, and not many come with her perspective. Jennifer, like many of our students, learned English as a second language. Growing up, learning English words brought her confidence and opened up opportunity. Like Maria, she started off shy, but when it clicked, she blossomed, and now she is helping build that confidence in her students.
Jennifer says that her experience growing up and learning English and translating for her family is the inner compass that guides her work at Reading Partners. She never had a mentor to work with one-on-one as a child, and can see the impact of this relationship through her students. When her students grasp that Jennifer is there just for them, it creates a shift. A shift in mindset, in confidence, and in ability. Jennifer’s work with her students has opened up their potential, and we’re so grateful that she considers it a win-win to volunteer with us. While it may start with the words CAT and MAT and BAT, Jennifer’s work reaches far beyond the center, and the confidence her students gain will be with them for years to come.
About Reading Partners
At Reading Partners, we know that reading unlocks opportunity. However, we have a literacy crisis here in San Francisco. 64 percent of third graders from our low-income communities are reading below proficiency. We recruit and train local volunteer tutors to change this and put students on track to reading at grade level. We work with students individually, and we carefully measure our results. Last year, 85 percent of our K-2nd graders mastered key foundational reading skills needed to read at grade level. We recruited 1,444 weekly volunteers last school year to serve 1,416 students and plan to serve even more students this year!
*Student names have been changed throughout to protect their identities.