ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — How about this for a return on investment?
Volunteers with Albuquerque Reads spend up to 90 minutes a week with kindergartners, teaching reading skills that supplement what the child is learning in the classroom. By the end of the school year, most are reading at or above grade level. When the school year started, few knew how to write their own names.
The students attend Atrisco, Bel-Air, Lavaland or Wherry Elementary in Albuquerque or Tomé Elementary in Los Lunas. All are Title I schools, which means a significant number of their students are from poor families and are usually underprepared academically compared to students in other schools.
After a school year of tutoring, these students will score better than their peers on benchmark reading assessments. Nine months after working with a tutor, 80 percent of the students read at or above grade level, and the rest are nearly at grade level. In the last school year, 55 percent of kindergartners who received tutoring were reading at first-grade level before summer vacation came around.
A great return on investment, but not the only return.
Pat Dee, who ran First Community Bank and is now an executive with US Bank, has been involved with the program since it began 11 years ago. Albuquerque Reads and Los Lunas Reads are partnerships of the Albuquerque and Los Lunas public schools and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.
For Dee, the return on investment comes in the form of a child like Antonio, at Bel-Air Elementary on Candelaria near San Mateo NE.
“He’s a very nice little kid,” he said. “He has a lot of energy. For the majority of the year, he would come in. His main goal was to avoid trying to do anything.”
Antonio would wander off to get a drink or go to the bathroom.
“I think he wanted to learn to read, but he knew he wasn’t doing well, so he’d try to delay or avoid the work,” Dee said.
Then last March “it clicked for him. It really hits home when you have a child who has been struggling, then it suddenly clicks with him,” he said.
Antonio stopped avoiding the work and started to read.
“I’ve done a ton of volunteer work over the years. I’ve never done anything as satisfying as this,” Dee said.
“Some kids come in reasonably well prepared to start with, but the majority of the kids we work with at the beginning of the year don’t know their letters. Most can’t write their names. Many come from homes where books are not around. A lot of them have single parents who are trying to keep food on the table and get by day to day.”
‘Like little sponges’
Patti Malouff had always volunteered. She organized fundraisers, worked on auctions and charity golf tournaments. Malouff got involved with Albuquerque Reads for what she said were selfish reasons.
“I wanted some one-on-one time with kids. I was looking for a way to have some fun,” she said.
“It’s how they are like little sponges. They are so eager. I guess this is how teachers fall in love with their profession. They get a look in their eye that says, ‘I get it.’ You just see their confidence build. You see them develop as a little person. I think that’s what hooked me.”
Tutoring sessions are customized for each child. Volunteers arrive 10 minutes before the first child comes for tutoring. A program of work supports what the child has been learning in the classroom.
The first child comes for a half hour, a second child comes for a second half hour, and the volunteer is done for the day. Dee said if enough volunteers are recruited, each child gets three sessions a week.
The volunteers are supported by site coordinators such as Kay Fulton, a retired APS teacher who helps tutors working at Lavaland. The program was able to expand into Lavaland thanks in part to financial support from Larry H. Miller Charities.
“She holds our hands,” Malouff said. “It’s very well organized. We have everything we need to work with the kids.”
New tutors can be anxious that they’ll make a mistake, Fulton said. “I tell them, that’s OK.” Her job is to monitor the tutoring sessions, help out and make sure tutors have what they need to support the children.
“My tutors have grown in confidence as to what they’re doing,” Fulton said. “We always have time to share with each other what’s working. I love my tutors.”