Making a difference in a child’s life can be as simple as reading a book with them for a couple hours twice a week.
The Sedona Literacy Center provides after-school tutoring to second- and third-grade students at Big Park Community and West Sedona schools from October through March every school year. Students meet one-on-one with volunteer tutors twice a week for an hour and a half to work on their reading and writing skills.
“First, second, third grade, you’re learning to read, but fourth grade on, you’re reading to learn,” said director Carolyn Fisher. “So we want to make sure that when those third-graders go into fourth grade, they have the basics that will allow them to be successful.”
Started by parishioners of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in 1988, the program is made up of volunteers and free to the students involved.
“It’s a true grassroots program,” Fisher said.
There’s no set curriculum the tutors follow, as lessons are tailored to each individual student. The center provides materials such as books, worksheets and educational games for tutors to use, and makes suggestions for lessons.
Tutors don’t need any formal training or experience.
“They just need heart,” Fisher said, and the center does provide training to equip tutors to best help their students.
They try to keep students engaged and on their toes, bouncing between at least three or four activities over the course of the afternoon. Everything they do is focused on improving reading and writing: Tutors and students read to each other, then work on reading comprehension worksheets, and they also write their own stories over the course of the year.
At the end of the year, the tutors compile all the stories a student has written into a book.
“What I love about that is if you read the first one and then the last one, it’s rare that you don’t see significant change,” Fisher said. It’s tangible evidence of all the ways a student has improved over the year.
“If we can find the opportunity for them to feel successful, it builds their confidence. Success breeds success,” she said.
The second- and third-grade teachers at both schools determine who in their classes could benefit most from the tutoring. Typically, Fisher said, they’re students who are falling behind but need just a little extra attention to get them up to speed.
Once teachers pinpoint the students in need, the literacy center sends a letter and paperwork home to get the parent’s permission, and they start the process of pairing the student with a tutor. Since the center meets on each school’s campus, tutors have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with teachers and parents, including them in their student’s progress.
So far this year, the program has eight tutors for Big Park and only two full-time — meaning they’ve committed to two two-hour sessions every week — tutors at West Sedona.
The center is holding an orientation meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 13, from 2 to 4 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 100 Arroyo Pinon Drive in Sedona. The orientation is simply informative — no commitment is required to come — to tell those interested about the program, how it works and what is required to volunteer. After orientation, volunteers who sign up are invited to training workshops at each campus before they begin tutoring.