Retirees ‘part of a family’ when they teach kids to read

When Lucy Carrera arrives at Kyrene de los Niños Elementary for her regular tutoring session, the kids say, “It’s like grandma’s here.”

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But, adds Carrera, they also know that “this grandma’s focused on the task at hand,” and that’s to get them better at reading.

Carrera is a member of the AARP Experience Corps, a national program that engages volunteers 50 and older to serve as reading tutors and mentors. Volunteers in the Tempe program meet with four students individually for a half hour twice a week.

And the program, according to teachers and principals, has garnered impressive results.

Between 88 and 92 per cent of teachers surveyed felt that the volunteers had a strong impact on students’ achievement of grade-level benchmarks in reading and on their motivation to learn. And 100 per cent of principals and language arts coaches viewed the program as a “highly effective intervention.”

Part of the success is likely due to the consistent schedule and the one-on-one approach.

“Your undivided attention is given to that child,” said Carrera.

Gordon Gauss, a retired quality assurance engineer, who volunteers at Holdeman Elementary in Tempe, agreed.

“The classrooms are quite large, and it’s so easy for kids who are having problems to get lost. These kids really do want to learn. They just need some attention, and one teacher can’t give 35 kids all the attention they need,” said Gauss.

Carrera and Gauss also praised the sophisticated training the program provides.  Prior to each school year volunteers are given new strategies for teaching reading, problem solving and critical thinking, and for managing behavior.

Even Carrera, who is a retired reading specialist, said she still was able to learn new information and approaches from the training.

Carrera and Gauss said they typically socialize with the child while they walk to and from the classroom, but once the tutoring session begins, they focus on reading for the full half hour. The tutors start each session by reading to the students from an age-appropriate book of the students’ choice.

“We want the students to hear what good reading sounds like because they might not be getting that elsewhere,” said Gauss.

Then the volunteers help the students tackle a specific grade-level book provided by the program by breaking it into smaller chunks. The students read and reread until they master each section before moving on to the next.

The students finish by reading the entire book twice.

Once the students realize they can read the book start to finish with no help, Carrera said it is an immense boost to each one’s confidence and pride.

“You should see their little eyes. They sparkle just like fireworks,” she said.

If the program’s accomplishments energize the kids to learn, they prove similarly beneficial for the volunteers, as well.

“If you want to do something where you felt you made a difference,” said Gauss, “this is a good thing to do.”

Carrera admits that she wasn’t really ready for retirement. She volunteers at several places, tap dances, travels, and continues taking classes as a self-described “professional student.” But at Kyrene de los Niños, she said, “I feel like I’m part of a family.”

The Tempe program began in 2006 and places volunteers in five of Tempe’s elementary schools.

Currently 55 volunteers work with students in grades one through three.

The Tempe Experience Corps program is currently recruiting volunteers for the upcoming school year

Information: Project Director Peggy  Goldberg, 480-858-2465, or



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