Distance learning is not getting in the way of a 16-year-old tutoring organization to keep doing what organizers know is needed to help valley students. Read With Me Volunteer Programs did a major pivot this year, when the pandemic led to distance learning, and volunteers continued tutoring students – virtually. The Auen Foundation is supporting the program with a $30,000 grant to train volunteers, most of whom are people over 55.
“The schools we work in have a high incidence of children living in homes where English is not spoken. These children have lost a great deal of academic progress since last March and need additional tutoring more than ever,” said Roberta Klein, Founder of Read With Me, which normally transports trained volunteer tutors to schools in the east valley. “We have demonstrated that poorly achieving students that have a volunteer tutor make twice as much academic progress as the rest of the students in school.”
Before the pandemic, Read With Me had about 750 volunteers, many of whom are snowbirds. When Read With Me volunteers were no longer able to tutor at school sites, the organization worked with Coachella Valley Unified School District to develop an effective, virtual tutoring program. Read With Me established three training locations – at the Berger Charitable Center, Southwest Church and Hope Lutheran Church – to train volunteers how to use Zoom and help students with reading and English language skills virtually. Volunteers can also train virtually, if they live outside the valley or are not comfortable coming to the socially distanced, in-person training.
“I feel so good after a tutoring session knowing I am helping kids with something as important as reading,” said Jay Kane, a Read With Me volunteer tutor. “For many months at the start of the pandemic I had very little contact with others, and started to feel somewhat isolated. Now, I feel connected and like I’m doing something impactful.”
Kane started volunteering with Read With Me in 2013 and worked with students in-person at Mecca Elementary School, but he says Read With Me made transitioning to virtual tutoring relatively easy. Volunteers can attend as many training sessions as they want until they feel comfortable using the virtual method to tutor from home. All tutors must complete state and federal background checks. Teachers facilitate the Zoom sessions, creating virtual breakout rooms with students and tutors.
“The Read With Me program has a dedicated team that has not let the pandemic stop them from what they’re passionate about,” said Sherrie Auen. “They are adapting to the circumstances because they know many children are struggling even more in today’s distance learning environment, and they still want to give these kids opportunities to develop their full potential.”
Five remote learning specialists have now trained more than 100 volunteers, some from as far away as Canada, Alaska and Nebraska. Program organizers say they need at least 100 more volunteers to tutor virtually in the 14 schools that appreciate this valuable, supplemental assistance. When students return to a hybrid in-person/distance learning schedule, most schools will still not allow volunteers on campus, so Read With Me expects to continue virtual tutoring for some time. The Auen Foundation grant will support the growth of this distance learning program.
For more information about becoming a Read With Me volunteer, visit www.readwithmevolunteers.com.