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Albuquerque Reads is looking for volunteers

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COURTESY ALBUQUERQUE READS Albuquerque Reads volunteers Debbie Dozier jokes with one of her students in this file photo from the program last year.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A local volunteer program dedicated to helping children learn and love to read is in search of 250 volunteers for the upcoming school year.

The Albuquerque Reads program, launched by Albuquerque Public Schools and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, serves  every kindergarten student in three Albuquerque elementary schools: Bel-Air, Atrisco and Wherry. Students at those schools have been identified as needing to improve their reading abilities.

“There really are quite a few more schools that would like to have Albuquerque Reads, but because we don’t have enough volunteers, we can’t offer it in all of the schools that would like to have it,” said Pat Dee , a U.S. Bank executive and member of the program committee for the chamber.

This year, the program aims to have 500 tutors for 250 kindergarten students. Ideally, if there are enough volunteers, each child will have three half-hour tutoring sessions a week. Tutors commit to working with two students every week for a total of one hour, or they can form a team of people who can work together to cover one slot.

Dee has been a tutor all but one year since the launch of the program in 2003, sharing a time slot with his wife. He says he has seen improvement in every student with whom he has worked.

“It’s been the most satisfying volunteer work that I have ever done, in terms of feeling a sense of accomplishment,” he said. “Without a doubt, I can’t think of any year where I didn’t come away at the end of the year feeling satisfied.”

Before Albuquerque Reads came to Bel-Air Elementary School, about 35 percent of children could read at the appropriate level when they started first grade. After the program, 75 to 80 percent of kids could read at grade level, Dee said.

“As a volunteer, I’ve seen kids start out who have literally never seen a book before or been read to. They don’t know their letters or the sounds that letters make,” he said. “By the end of the year, you see them reading books on their own.”

Bel-Air Principal Lisa Grusy  said the tutors are always enthusiastic and want to go the extra mile for the kids, sharing concerns about emotional or social issues they might see.

“They become super involved with the kids, beyond the Albuquerque Reads program,” Grusy said.  “A lot of them take even more of an interest in the child than the academic needs; they start looking at the whole child.”

Some of the kindergartners come from homes where their parents may not be literate, Dee said. But by the end of the year, kids who have younger siblings at home may take on the role of becoming the tutor for their brothers and sisters.

“We are hoping that this will break the mold (of illiterate families) for some of these kids, and it seems to have worked.”

Retired senior citizens comprise the biggest age group of the tutors. Dee says it is an ideal volunteer job for them, but that business people, stay-at-home moms and anyone who has an interest in feeling a sense of accomplishment and working with kids is a good fit for the job.

“I don’t know of any better way to have a very positive impact on a child’s life,” he said.  “It’s incredibly satisfying and heart-warming to see the progress they make.”

The kindergarten students will start school on Aug. 17. Training for new tutors will be on Sept. 11 and 18, and tutoring will begin Sept. 21.

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