By: Abby Matanis and Destiny Munoz
With New Mexico ranked near the bottom in educational achievement, schools welcome a helping hand—or a helpful reader.
For 17 years, the Albuquerque Reads program has has been helping local public schools teach elementary students how to read.
The non-profit organization, created in partnership by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, and Albuquerque Public Schools sends volunteers into poor economic areas to tutor kindergarteners in reading and writing during the first year of elementary school.
“It’s the most rewarding volunteer work I’ve ever done,” said longtime Albuquerque Reads tutor Patrick Dee, who has been volunteering since the program kicked off at Bel-Air Elementary in 2002. Dee was even on the original committee which started the program.
“Our big challenge was getting tutors,” Dee said. “I thought if I’m going to be a part of the steering committee, I would really like to try being a tutor.”
From September through April, tutors work with students in 30-minute sessions three times a week.
Dee said the program has been very successful.
“They learn and they grow and they gain confidence throughout the year to where they are able to read simple books,” he said.
Tutoring sessions consist of briefings with the tutors about the curriculum that needs to be covered for that day. Then, the first group of students will show up and jump into lessons focusing on three different skills: reading, writing, and drawing.
“If we get finished with what was assigned, there are some extra things that we can pull out to work with the kids if they’re having challenges in a particular area,” Dee said. “The great thing about this program is it’s not one size fits all.”
Everything that is taught in the program supports classroom teachers and their curriculums.
“Some of the biggest fans of the program have been the first grade teachers who’ve seen the difference in the kids and how much better they are for first grade if they’ve been through the program,” Dee said.
Each tutor keeps a notebook where they write down how the students performed during each session. The notes are shared with a site advisor and the child’s classroom teacher.
“The one-on-one connection is really as important to the tutors as it is to the kids,” Dee said. “A lot of the tutors are retired and these folks really look forward to coming and working with their kids.”
Each year, the program advisors do basic assessments to measure improvement in kindergarten students. One of those is a reading test, which are nationally regulated and used to measure students’ reading proficiency levels.
“We don’t do any additional assessing,” said Marianne Billy, the director of learning developments and education programs for Chamber of Commerce. “It’s standardized and they are compared to students district-wide.”
She said the chamber believes education is the key to a city’s economic vitality.
Billy said the goal for the end of each year is to have the students read a simple book, and the long term goal is to eventually see the students graduate high school.
“We also give away books to the kids,” Billy said. “They are going home with 20 or so more books [each year] and these are kids who are maybe coming from homes who don’t have books.”
Now, the program is looking for at least 20 more tutors to help at Whittier Elementary. Organizers are partnering up with the University of New Mexico Work Study program in an effort to get college students to tutor.
If interested in becoming a tutor, the process is fairly simple: logon to the Albuquerque Reads website to apply and submit a processed background check.
Abby Matanis is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. She can be reached on Twitter @abbymatanis or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Destiny Munoz is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. She can be reached on Twitter @DestinyAMunoz12 or at email@example.com.