America Reads tutor Allysha Walters walked into a Vowles Elementary classroom and was immediately swarmed with hugs from people half her height.
The Saginaw senior receives this welcome twice a week while tutoring three second-grade students as part of Central Michigan University Volunteer Center’s America Reads program.
“One, two, three, read,” Walters said as she began tracing each word of a large illustrated book with her finger with 8-year-old Kylei Shaner.
Halfway through reading the book about elephants, Shaner abruptly stopped and began to describe her new pet rat to Walters.
Such interruptions to share personal moments are something many of the second graders like to do with their tutors.
Through the paired reading technique, 23 CMU students serve as tutors for second and third graders at nine local mid-Michigan elementary schools, serving about 150 students, said Daneille Schmutz, Michigan Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA Mentoring Program manager.
“They help students at a critical time in their literacy development to gain comprehension, confidence and fluency with reading,” Schmutz said.
The America Reads program was established in 1997 as a national initiative by the Clinton Administration in order to meet a community need of providing extra attention to youth learning the foundations of reading, she said. The goal of the program is to have students reading well and independently by the end of third grade.
Every student has the option of reading on their own or together with their tutor, Walters said. The three students Walters tutors are taken out of the classroom and into the hallway to work with her.
“They get stickers for reading, and then they earn small, medium and big prizes,” she said.
Seven-year-old Preston Umbleby sat down and started reading his Star Wars Lego book out loud before Walters could even ask if he wanted to read with her.
“I don’t like the big ones,” said Umbleby, referring to the long paragraphs.
The second grader explained every detail of Star Wars to Walters as he read through the entire book on his own.
“It’s always exciting when they want to read during their recess,” Walters said. “They all fight about who can read during that time or who can read first.”
The majority of tutors are paid through work-study funds, Schmutz said.
“This program is unique, because it allows students to work, assisting in paying for school by utilizing their financial aid award, yet they also are able to work a job where they feel they are making an impact and are having a meaningful connection with the community,” she said.
Elementary students increase their reading comprehension, fluency and confidence through reading one-on-one with tutors, Schmutz said. Tutors also serve as college positive mentors, so they inspire students to view college as an option and to see post-secondary education as something that is both valuable and attainable.
“Often tutors will say that they themselves were in a similar program in elementary school and that because of that experience, they want to encourage youth to celebrate literacy and develop reading skills that will help them in the future,” Schmutz said. “The tutors want to continue to influence students positively because of the impact similar programs and their tutors had on them. I think that is a beautiful thing.”