Virtual volunteers mentor schoolkids to improved reading and life skills

Tempe’s AARP Foundation Experience Corps volunteers partnered with Tempe Elementary School District to support students’ early literacy skills virtually. –Photo courtesy of Tempe

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Nearly 90 elementary students in Tempe boosted their reading skills this school year thanks to the work of dedicated volunteers, who shifted to virtual tutoring from in-person sessions in order to continue serving children in need of extra help.

Tempe’s AARP Foundation Experience Corps program, part of AARP’s national program, focuses on early literacy skills and supports students in partnership with the Tempe Elementary School District. The program is open to volunteers ages 50 and older.

Volunteers don’t need special skills, just a willingness to share their experience, time and patience. This year, in the face of the global pandemic, volunteers gave all that, and more.

“In this difficult year, teachers and parents have really had to adjust the way teaching and learning happen in a virtual environment,” said Tempe Councilmember Doreen Garlid, who was on hand to thank volunteers at a recent drive-up event.

“I’m so grateful that our beautiful, wonderful volunteers were able to make that transition right along with them so the kids didn’t miss a step. This was so important for their continued learning.”

Tempe and the school district worked jointly to schedule sessions virtually during the week, providing the one-on-one tutoring opportunity for students that is the hallmark of the successful program.

In all, 40 volunteers tutored 86 students in Grades 1-3.

Volunteer Carol Williams joined Tempe’s Experience Corps program in its early days and wanted to continue with the program during the pandemic.

“I love interacting with the little children and seeing them actually learn to love to read,” she said.

Despite the daunting task of tutoring virtually, the volunteers dove in and quickly connected with the students as they always do during a regular school year.

“Unfailingly, the tutors showed up for them across the computer screen,” said Tempe Senior Social Services Coordinator Nicole Burner, who oversees the program.

“We are so appreciative of them. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for being the heart of our program.”

For anyone interested in Experience Corps and willing to commit to approximately five hours per week September to May, information is available by visiting the Experience Corps website.

Each tutor is assigned to four students and meets individually with them for 30 minutes twice weekly during school hours.

Comprehensive training and support services are provided.

Volunteers must undergo background checks, including fingerprinting, and 15 hours of pre-service training.

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