By Liza Kremer
When I first came across the Wright to Read program located in Alexandria, VA, I was thrilled at the thought of both helping others and working with children. Over the past three times I’ve volunteered, I’ve learned a lot about the program.
Wright to Read is a program aiming to serve students (in 2016, their goal is 100) in Alexandria City Public Schools, grades 1-5, who have tested a minimum of one year below grade level in literacy skills. Many of the students referred to the program are more than a year behind; it’s also found that nearly all qualify for free or reduced lunch; over 50% are English language learners; and 25% receive Special Education services. The vision of Wright to Read, as stated on their website, is “Every child will have the necessary literacy skills to acheive success in school and in life”. However, the director, Luisa Reyes, is aiming to do more than that. She not only wants them to improve their skills; she also wants the students to develop a love literature, as well as form a unique relationship with their chosen tutor. Tutors are chosen carefully and go through a two-month long process that includes orientation, training, and a background check. Then, of course, there is the introduction meeting with the student and their parent(s)/guardian(s) before beginning the actual tutoring. I’ve been in the office during one of the orientation sessions and have learned that Luisa is keen on helping her tutors out whenever they need, whatever it may be, in order to further increase the student’s success. She stresses the importance of building a relationship with the student, as well as a routine. Students meet with their tutor for one hour each week after school at one of the local libraries, and that one hour includes a detailed schedule to be guided by, if not follow. The schedule is also catered to the student’s need; for instance, if a student reads well, but has trouble with comprehension, the tutor is to focus on that, and vice versa.
I think the most important thing I’ve learned so far while volunteering is humility. As much as I would love to be a tutor, the time frame required to become a tutor exceeds the length of this class, not to mention that my current schedule doesn’t allow for the 30-minute drive once a week (plus that’s a bit of a drive to make every week). Therefore, I’ve been helping Luisa out in the office. The first time I volunteered was for a Scavenger Hunt event. My main duties included setting up the food and then standing in the room, letting families know what to do. I was discouraged, in all honesty, about what the next volunteer hours would bring. However, my next session I helped Luisa clean off this massive desk in her office, which she decided would be sold later, and then I proceeded to make copies. My last session, which I found most enjoyable, consisted of me reading several different children’s books and writing comprehension questions to go along with them, for the tutors and their student. That, of course, brought out the inner writer in me, and I found it to be both fun and slightly challenging. All of these tasks did not include me tutoring or involving myself at all with children, which is what I wanted when searching for an organization; however, I have still been a help to Luisa and the program. She’s a very busy woman, as I’ve learned, and seems to dedicate much of her life to helping others. While the service work I’m doing is not my ideal, it sill counts, it still matters, and it’s taught me that I don’t have to do something big to help someone out.