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.