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Reading Between the Lines

Reading Between the Lines – INTERGENERATIONAL TUTORING HELPS KIDS READ AT GRADE LEVEL by Jessica Laskey

When Fruitridge Manor resident Susan Just started volunteering with AARP Foundation’s Experience Corps—an intergenerational tutoring program that helps children become grade-level readers by the end of third grade—she chose to work with kindergartners because she has “a lot in common” with them.

“I thought kindergarten was a good place to start,” says the 65-year-old, who retired as a manager in the state Department of Education’s Early Education and Support Division in 2016. “I’d never been a teacher—even though I worked for the Department of Education, that wasn’t my role—so I wanted to start at the beginning. For many children, kindergarten is the first time they’ve been to school, so this way, we can both start together.”

Experience Corps began 20 years ago and is now offered in 21 cities nationwide with approximately 2,000 volunteers—all 50 years and older. The Sacramento program launched in 2016 with the help of the Sacramento Chinese Community Service Center and United Way California Capital Region. Last year, the program served 637 students at nine schools, with 4,400 hours donated by 40 community volunteers, such as Just.

“Experience Corps has everything I could ask for in a volunteer experience,” says Just, who also cycles for the homeless-support ministry Mercy Pedalers. “They empower you to feel successful.”

Just visits her assigned school site, Sacramento City Unified’s Nicholas Elementary School, one to two days a week and works with three students in the library with materials provided by Experience Corps. The tutoring sessions provide targeted practice in reading comprehension with a goal of fluency at grade level by the end of the program. Experience Corps’ ultimate mission is to disrupt the cycle of poverty by making a lasting difference in the lives of Sacramento’s most vulnerable children.

“When I first started at the beginning of the school year, the kids didn’t know even simple words,” Just says. “It’s amazing to see how far they’ve come. This year’s program ended in May with an appreciation luncheon, during which they presented us with handwritten thank you notes. It was fabulous.”

Part of what has made Experience Corps such a pleasant part of Just’s life is how easy the organization makes it. Volunteers are trained and provided with all the materials they need. They also have direct contact with a coordinator to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.

“If you’re someone in the community who doesn’t know what to do with your time but you want to volunteer, know that Experience Corps is a very well-organized, encouraging, supportive program,” Just says.

But even more than the attention to detail, Just loves how Experience Corps benefits her community.

“Volunteering gives you a wonderful sense of belonging,” Just says. “I happened to grow up in an amazing family, but I know that not all children get that opportunity. It’s important to be someone in someone else’s life. It’s extremely rewarding.”

For more information, visit aarp.org/experience-corps.

Jessica Laskey can be reached at jessrlaskey@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

And the Award Goes to…. Cadie Marotta

Cadie Marotta reads to students as part of the AARP Experience Corps program.

One of our volunteers, Cadie Marotta, recently received Daily Point of Light Award and was featured on their website. The award is given out each weekday to those extraordinary volunteers who are donating their time and talent to better their communities. Ms. Cadie has volunteered at Earl Warren Elementary for 2 years. She tutors Experience Corps students and helps in the Kindergarten classroom. Thank you for your commitment and dedication, Cadie!

Volunteer Spotlight

Jan Mishler, Pacific Elementary

Challenge Accepted

Jan Mishler is no stranger to volunteering. Aside from her 45 years in the radiology department at Kaiser, she was also a full-time pastor’s wife—a nonstop job. “It was a lot of volunteer work with the church,” she says, “a lot.”

Perhaps she’s simply got a helping nature, or perhaps she’s used to filling her time doing whatever she can to serve her community. Before she joined Experience Corps, she spent ten years after retirement volunteering at schools in her grandchildren’s classrooms, and doing “a lot of grandchild-taking-care-of.” While she loved being around the kids, the monotony of classroom support began to wear on her a little bit.

“When you’re volunteering in your grandchild’s classroom, it’s cut-and-staple and help-kids-go-to-the-bathroom,” she explains. “There’s really not a whole lot of educational value in it for the kids.” Eventually, she volunteered to help her middle grandchild’s class read, a Kindergarten class at the time. “That was a challenge,” says Jan. “A lot of them come to Kindergarten without any reading skills.”

This experience sparked something in Jan. When she felt challenged, she felt more connected, and she felt like she was giving more to the classroom and students. She began looking for other opportunities to continue the trend.

“Right before I got hooked up with Experience Corps, I thought, Gosh, I’ve gotta do something that’s interesting. So I found the ad in the paper and the rest is history.”

Jan certainly has risen to the challenge, tutoring both first- and third-grade students at Pacific Elementary. While not always easy, Jan’s passion and dedication have created some pretty special moments in her tutoring groups. Her favorite thing about tutoring, she says, is when a student finally gets it.

“When they start plowing through a page, when they want to read first before you read to them—my kids say, ‘I want to read it cold!’ That meant they wanted to learn and they wanted me to know that they could do it.”

Jan considers herself a pretty normal person. “I’m kind of ordinary. I love working in the garden, I used to drive go karts, I guess, and I’m a good cook, and I spit watermelon seeds across the room—my grandkids think that’s kind of fun.”

But sitting in on her sessions—whether it’s during her pre-session breathing exercises, her mid-session dance/wiggle breaks (she has perfected “the floss” this year – see the picture above), or overhearing a little bit of singing during a choral read—you know there’s nothing normal about what’s going on. In fact, it’s something pretty special.