AARP Experience Corps

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AARP Experience Corps is a program of volunteers age 50 and older who are helping children become proficient readers before they finish third grade. The City of Phoenix Read On Initiative hosts the program in 10 school districts. Tim Valencia, City of Phoenix Youth and Education Manager, talks about the program.

JOSE CARDENAS: AARP experience corps is a program of volunteers age 50 and older who are helping children become proficient readers before they reach third grade. Last year, the city of Phoenix read on initiative hosted the AARP experience corps program in 10 school districts. Here to talk more about the program is Tim Valencia, youth and education manager for read on Phoenix, experience corps tutoring program. Tim, welcome to "Horizonte."

TIM VALENCIA: Thank you.

JOSE CARDENAS: Tell us about the program. How does it work?

TIM VALENCIA: Well, the program is a targeted, sustained tutoring program that goes into the classroom. So what we do is we look for volunteers who are 50 and older who are trained in our curriculum and have the skills to offer one on one training. The read on Phoenix initiative was launched a couple of years ago and the mayor decided that there would be no third graders in his city who would fail at third grade and would become proficient readers. We launched this program. It's one-on-one tutoring in 10 school districts, serving 300 kids a year.

JOSE CARDENAS: You talk about trained volunteers. What kind of training do they receive?

TIM VALENICA: They receive specific training on how to conduct tutoring one on one. Specifically, we look at fluency. So we teach those tutors how they can teach fluency one-on-one tutoring with those students.

JOSE CARDENAS: So as I understand it, each volunteer goes twice a week and has a certain number of kids that they work with.

TIM VALENICA: That is correct. So the minimum or standard would be five hours a week which would equate to two and a half hours a day two times a week and these tutors will see four students a day or a week, so they'll see them, for example, on Tuesday, they'll see four students and on Thursday they'll see the same four students for approximately 35 weeks.

JOSE CARDENAS: And what kind of impact has the program had so far?

TIM VALENCIA: This is our first pilot program and the impact that we have seen has been tremendous. We have seen that 98% of the students that are receiving tutoring have increased educational gains. We have seen that fluency words per minute average increase is around 50%. So we have seen some significant gains in offering this one-on-one tutoring program within our school system.

JOSE CARDENAS: We've been showing some pictures of the volunteers with the students. You provide the materials or does it vary from one school to the next?

TIM VALENCIA: We provide all the materials. We want to make sure this is very easy and simple for the school districts. There is no requirement for the school districts to provide any type of curricula. They do approve the curricula that we use and we use the same curricula throughout all 10 schools in five school districts.

JOSE CARDENAS: Is this at no cost to the school districts?

TIM VALENCIA: It is at very low cost. What we would like is more or less space. We are looking for office supplies, so the cost is very minimum. And typically the school districts are willing to provide the space that is required to do the tutoring.

JOSE CARDENAS: How many volunteers do you have right now?

TIM VALENCIA: We have approximately 90 volunteers. Our goal is 100. We're just shy around 10 volunteers. We're looking to go to three to five more schools which will require around 60 to 80 more volunteers. We're looking to almost double our volunteer size.

JOSE CARDENAS: And how does somebody get involved in the program?

TIM VALENCIA: They can call us within the city of Phoenix or look up read on Phoenix. There's a ton of information on how they can volunteer. We have information sessions, coming up through June and July that they can come and learn more about their program and how they can volunteer here within the city of Phoenix.

JOSE CARDENAS: Now, those information sessions, I looked at the schedule, it looks like you have two a month going through September.

TIM VALENCIA: That is correct.

JOSE CARDENAS: They go to both of them or it's just one that they have to attend?

TIM VALENCIA: It's just one that they have to attend and really we just try to provide as much information about the program and what it's going to entail, what the commitment looks like, be very transparent. It is a huge commitment. It's a whole-year commitment, five hours a week for 35 weeks and we want to make sure they understand what they're getting into. At that point in time, then we offer a specific training around how to teach fluency and that's a two-day training that they will participate in during -- before they start our program.

JOSE CARDENAS: So we're almost out of time. One last question. In your view, what has been the most either surprising or satisfactory result that you've seen in the program?

TIM VALENCIA: Not only are we seeing that these students are becoming better readers or fluent readers but we're also seeing some anecdotal information that we want to start capturing and that is a decrease in chronic absenteeism and fewer behavioral referrals in the schools and so we want to start tracking this particular data set to show that not only are we improving our fluency among our readers but we're also reducing chronic absenteeism and have fewer behavioral programs.

JOSE CARDENAS: It sounds like a great program. Thanks for joining us on "Horizonte" to discuss it.

TIM VALENCIA: Thank you.

Tim Valencia : City of Phoenix Youth and Education Manager

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