I grew up in Harlem, but my mother made sure we traveled to different places: West Virginia, Michigan, Cape Cod. As an adult I can really appreciate having that exposure to different places, so that’s how I am with my students now as a teacher. I want to give them exposure to as much of the world as possible—visits to the farmers market, trips to Bear Mountain—that’s the part of my job that I love most. Providing experiences for them that they wouldn’t normally receive is one of the best things I can give them, and Read Alliance is a perfect example of that.
These kids would never come across a high school student interested in helping them read. In the beginning, you can really see the kids are amazed by their tutor and sometimes they just stare. I encourage them to ask questions: “Do you really go to high school? What classes do you have?” And they are amazed that the big kids have reading and writing just like they do!
The one-to-one attention is also unique for my students. They don’t get that in the other after school programs—usually it’s a ratio of 20 to 2. The individual assistance—no other program has that, and it makes a huge difference! I teach 1st grade, and 8 of my students are in the READ Program. I see a big difference in those students—they’re more confident when they pick up a book, and they want to show you right away. They’re used to that one-on-one with their tutor, so they want to point out to you all the words they’ve learned and tell you “This is a READ word!”
Before they started the READ Program, my students Valerie, Xavier and Amir wouldn’t share or read aloud in class because they knew they would struggle. Now they raise their hands in class because they are more confident. All my READ students are more confident now when they pick up a book.
Working with Teens
I can see growth in the teens I work with, too. At the beginning they would do the reading part but they were tentative about what to do when they weren’t working with the kids. So I spoke with them about how you can engage with younger students, and I could see them grow more comfortable. They’ll even come in early to dance with the kids before the READ Program starts.
One of my impressions before the READ Program was that high school students could be more attitudinal than elementary students, and that is not what I’ve experienced at all. I’ve gotten a great batch of tutors. They’re excited to work with the kids: they come early and eat their snack, socialize a bit, and ask me if they can help with anything before the program starts. I know I can work with the very young, but I appreciate that Read Alliance lets me work with the older group too and help them build skills towards their professional careers.