Tutors try to raise kids' skills at reading
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 4, 2007

Carol Peck

Feb. 4, 2007 12:00 AM

Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. You can help break the cycle of illiteracy and change the outlook for Arizona students by joining All Star Kids Tutoring
(ASKT) to tutor second- and third-graders.

This 10-year-old program matches volunteers with students identified by their teachers as being one to two years behind in their reading skills.

Mentors meet one-on-one with the students each week while other student/tutor pairs are nearby to practice critical reading skills with instruction tailored to the students' specific needs. At 15 tutoring sites throughout the Valley, volunteers are providing more than 7,000 hours of free literacy tutoring.
"Nothing is more important than having a child know that you are there solely for them," said Mimi Mertel, founder and president of the board of ASKT, and herself a tutor. "It builds self-confidence that is evident throughout the year."

Additionally, the program donates new and gently used books (more than 3,700 last year) to the students and their families through a program called Bright Books, which will be funded next year by First Book and Cheerios.
Family Literacy Nights are also scheduled to help parents pick out books to start a library at home and meet the tutors who are working with their children.

The program initially struggled to show results on the students' state tests until the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, an early funder, stepped in to help.

"Through 'best practices' study and adoptions, along with curriculum revision, recent assessments showed that students made significant gains in reading compared to similar students who had not participated in the program," Piper President Judy Mohraz said.

ASKT also found that intensive training and support for volunteers was imperative for the program's success. Volunteers receive introductory training along with advanced courses throughout the year and monthly staff support on site.

New aspects will be added to the program in 2007 including parent trainings funded by the Thunderbirds and the beginning of "affiliate sites" where organizations like the Sun City del Sol Rotary Club adopt the ASKT model and bring it to additional schools.

To volunteer, call (480) 624-9950 or visit www.askt .org.

Carol Peck is president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Arizona. Her columns appear every other Sunday. Send your questions and ideas to her at rodel@rodelfoundations.org.