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How Older Adults Can Help Young Children Learn to Read

AARP Foundation Experience Corps helps students become proficient readers by pairing them with an adult mentor

A teacher is working with a student

Getty Images/AARP

Bob Edwards:

Hi, I’m Bob Edwards with An AARP Take on Today.

School is back in session.

During the lockdowns brought on by the pandemic, most students were taught in digital classrooms. Though it was necessary to check the spread of COVID, the practice may have stalled younger children’s education.

A national study from Stanford assessed students’ oral reading skills in the spring and the fall of 2020. Researchers found that 2nd and 3rd graders’ Spring reading scores were about 30 percent lower than years prior. Fall reading scores were stronger, possibly because teachers were more prepared to educate virtually. But it wasn’t enough to recoup the losses students experienced in spring.

Students who fell behind during the pandemic might be at a disadvantage for the rest of their school careers if they don’t receive more help.

Mioshi Moses:

There are well-known studies that indicate students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers.

 

Bob Edwards:

That’s Mioshi Moses, Vice President of AARP Foundation’s Experience Corps. It’s a program that pairs children in Kindergarten through third grade with adult mentors ages 50 and older, who help them to read at a proficient level.

 

Mioshi Moses:

And poverty, we found also compounds the problem. Students who have lived in poverty are three times more likely to drop out or fail to graduate on time, more than their affluent peers. And so our program is designed to impact these students at a critical time.

 

Bob Edwards:

How have students benefited from Experience Corps. What type of literacy improvements are you seeing?

 

Mioshi Moses:

Well, we collect and report standard outcomes annually and have found that our probe through our program students, as a 65% of our students have improved their literacy skills by half a grade or more just by being in our program. We also find that almost 60% have improved their school attendance, which is another critical factor of success and of learning in schools for students. In addition to tracking these academic outcomes. As I mentioned earlier, we focus on the whole child and track social, emotional learning indicators. And these indicators help students of all ages to better comprehend their emotions, to build these emotions fully and demonstrate empathy for others. and what we found here is that through our program, 80% of our students exhibit improved social, emotional learning indicators. So with our program, we help our students be successful, not only academically, but giving them social, emotional, learning behaviors.

 

Bob Edwards:

How has the transition to virtual learning affected the program?

 

Mioshi Moses:

So Bob, as the pandemic has affected everybody, it has definitely affected our program. It was huge. We secured funding to provide Chromebooks and hotspots to our volunteers and families in need. We developed new training on these new digital tools and how to use them so that we can make sure that our volunteers were able to interact with our students. We connected with the students' families to ensure that the students were able to get on during these sessions, we digitally recruited schools and volunteers, and just created a complete new processes to ensure that these sessions were able to take place online through platforms like Meet, Teams, Zoom, and even WebEx. And so in the end, we were very proud to share that all 22 of our programs were able to pivot virtual tutoring during this past school year. And based on what we learned through this virtual tutoring, what we're now calling Pilot, we mapped out best fit strategies for delivering our sessions and really found that this was a new way for new volunteers to engage with us. Any volunteers that wanted to work on our program but may have had transportation barriers, they were able to be able to tutor virtually. And so we were able to bring in new tutors that way. And so what we've decided is that going forward, we're going to remain committed to delivering these caring relationships and high-quality tutoring that we know are transformative in the lives of our students and volunteers. And we'll find the best way to do that.

 

Bob Edwards:

Where can people go to volunteer?

 

Mioshi Moses:

Thanks for asking Bob. Anyone interested in volunteering can sign up through our online form. It's on aarp.org forward slash experience Corps E X P E R I E N C E C O R P S. We are seeking volunteers who are 50 years old and older have a high school diploma or GED. Those who can pass a criminal background check. As you know, we're working with students and a basic literacy screening. We do require that all volunteers attend at least 25 hours of annual training. And that's training not only on digital tools, but on our structured session and the tools that we use to help deliver the literacy training to our students. And we'd like for our volunteers to be committed to giving at least 15 hours a week during the school year. And so that additional time that the volunteer provides, they're able to engage with the students and really build trust and that mentoring relationship that they find exciting and helpful, and part of their development.

 

Bob Edwards:

Mioshi Moses is AARP Foundations Vice-President of Experience Corps. Thanks for joining us today.

 

Mioshi Moses:

Thank you.

 

Bob Edwards:

Our next guest says the benefit of multigenerational tutoring goes both ways. The students in the program are able to foster connections and sharpen their academic skills. On the other hand, the 50-plus mentors report having better social networks and better emotional health.

 

Robert Rouse

Besides the great feeling that I've had an impact on someone else, I also get an opportunity to learn some skills myself.

Bob Edwards:

Robert Rouse was a retired firefighter when he joined the Experience Corps over seven years ago. He had started informally volunteering at his local elementary school helping however he could. What Robert really wanted to do, however, was teach children how to read.

 

Robert Rouse:

I think it was in 2012 probably or close to that. I noticed some, what I thought were older adults watching me in this one particular class. And I had assisted one of those adults at one point. I noticed they had a purple lanyard that said Experience Corps, but I didn't know what that was. And as I was helping the lady out later on, she was a team leader or team site coordinator we call them now, I asked her why was she in the classroom? And she told me, and they were there to help the children with literacy. I said, well, great. That's why I'm here. And so she invited me to come to their monthly meeting at that school. And as I sat in there, I was intrigued as they talk about just their strategies and what they were doing. And I said, this is pretty cool. And I asked her, so why didn’t you tell me about this before? And she said, well, you know, you have to be 50 years of age or older. And truthfully, we just thought you were much younger. And just thought you retired early in life.

 

Bob Edwards:

What inspired you to teach children how to read?

 

Robert Rouse:

The fact that I have children who have been fortunate enough to have my wife and I work with them and support them through school has never been lost on me. When I was a shift work firefighter, especially when my children were really small, on my days off very often, I volunteered in a school where they went to school and try to encourage some of my colleagues to do the same, if not for their children and for other people's children who perhaps couldn't take off or just didn't take off. I also about 30 years ago, started mentoring some children in my community and different aspects of my community. And one particular child early on, I learned that he was a struggling reader and I did what I needed to do to learn how to teach someone or support someone in their literacy skills.

 

Bob Edwards:

Can you tell us about a moment when it felt like you were really making a difference in a student's life?

 

Robert Rouse:

For a short time, I was a site coordinator. We call them team leaders back then. And one of the little fellows that I worked with, I found out that he liked a certain type of fictional character. I think it was Angry Birds that was a big thing back then. And I went to Costco and Costco used to sell a series of books, seven or eight books. And the year I tutored with this young fellow, he aged out of our program. So by the time he reached fourth grade, he was no longer in our program. And by then I was a site coordinator and I bought that stack of books. And every month when he came by my office, because by then I had an office, I would hand him the book and he would be so excited. And I want to say probably midway in the school year, I had to leave the, the program because I had to become a caregiver and the team leader that replaced me, or now we call them site coordinators, when I ran into her, she says, you know, this little boy comes looking for you every day. And so that was pretty neat.

 

Bob Edwards:

What do you find most fulfilling about your work?

 

Robert Rouse:

My role has changed. COVID had an impact obviously on the world. And so this last school year, I was asked to go back into a leadership role because I've been a tutor the year prior when we shut down on COVID. I was tutoring in one of the schools in my neighborhood school. And when we went virtual, we developed a position called regional coordinator. And last school year as a regional coordinator, I was one of two regional coordinators responsible for kind of bridging the gap between experienced core administrators, the volunteers, the site coordinator, and then we're working with the school liaison kind of all in one. And so last year was really neat because for as difficult as it was for us to tutor virtually, I think we did good work while we were trying to learn how to navigate our way in technology. So one of the things that I had to do, which made it very, very challenging, but a lot of fun was I had to support the efforts of the adult learners and learning how to navigate the internet if you will, or, you know, working virtually. And that definitely was not anything that I had anticipated, and I don't think anyone else had anticipated. So that was a lot of fun.

 

Bob Edwards:

Okay. Anything else you want to add?

 

Robert Rouse:

I am very grateful that I have had the opportunity thus far to be a part of the program, even as the climate is shifting. And we don't know what the school year holds, but I think last school year, they demonstrated that we never do know. And for as much as we think we are in charge, and know what's about to happen next, it's our duty to just try to be ready and not get ready because change is the only thing that's inevitable in this world, yet we tend to resist change. And, you know, if we want to really have an impact on our young people, we have to demonstrate to them that they can survive change because we have survived change with them.

 

Bob Edwards:

Robert Rouse is an Experience Corps regional coordinator. Robert, thank you for the great work you do. And thank you for joining us.

 

To learn more about the AARP Foundation Experience Corps program, or to sign up to become a volunteer for this new school year, visit AARP dot org slash Experience Corps.

 

That’s it for today’s show.

 

If you liked this episode, please let us know by emailing us at news podcast at AARP dot org

 

Thanks to our news team.

 

Producers, Colby Nelson and Danny Alarcon

 

Production Assistant, Bianca Trotter

 

Engineer, Julio Gonzales

 

Executive Producer, Jason Young

 

And, of course, my co-hosts Mike Ellison and Wilma Consul.

Become a subscriber on Apple podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and other apps. Be sure to rate our show as well.

 

For An AARP Take on Today, I’m Bob Edwards. Thanks for listening.

AARP Foundation's Experience Corps is a program that helps young children from vulnerable backgrounds become proficient readers by pairing them with adult mentors age 50 and older. Today, we'll hear from Mioshi Moses, Vice President of the program, as she breaks down why the program not only empowers them but the older adults who tutor them as well. We'll also hear from a volunteer as he voices his experience as a mentor.

Read the Volunteer's Story

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