In her 10 years of volunteering, a Greenwood retiree has seen the children she has mentored master multiplication tables and pass the state-required reading comprehension exam.
At the same time, Karen McKee, 67, also benefits from her time at Greenwood schools as an Oasis volunteer.
“When you’re retired, you still have a need to be around people and socialize. This is a way to feel you’re benefiting children who are in need. It keeps you active, and I feel that the children do improve from the time you first get them until the end of the school year — but you’ve made a wonderful friend as well,” McKee said.
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Oasis, a national senior citizens activity support organization, coordinates a tutoring program in Greenwood that matches adults 55 years and older with kids in kindergarten through third grade. Tutors work with the students for about an hour a week at their elementary schools by reading with them and having the children write about what they’ve read.
This year, 42 tutors are signed on with the program — the most in the local program’s more than 20-year history. Kids benefit by having another adult in their lives who cares about them and their academic progress, but tutors say the benefit to them is just as extraordinary.
“Ten years later, I’m still enjoying it. I get more out of it than the children do,” said McKee, who is retired from American Trans Air. “They’re delightful.”
Oasis tutors read to the students, and the pair will discuss the topic of the book. The students also keep a journal about what they’ve read. Some kids will take turns reading with their tutor so they practice reading and listening.
“They get to see the light bulb go on,” said Janie Adcock, Oasis tutoring program coordinator. “So much of it becomes mentoring instead of tutoring — having an older adult who cares about them who will show up every week.”
As the pairs discuss what they’ve read, the students learn reading comprehension but also a little bit about life as the mentors discuss their experiences.
“The tutors share their lives with them and help them understand what those words mean,” Adcock said. “(The children) will become better readers and better students as that relationship develops between tutor and child.”
First-year tutor Susan Daniels, 71, a retired teacher from the Center Grove area, was surprised to learn that her weekly time with her student at Westwood Elementary School was beneficial enough that it was worth missing recess for.
“When I first started, I was only scheduled to work with her for 20 minutes, but she asked if she could skip her recess so we could have more time together,” Daniels said. “We’ve been forging a personal bond as well as seeing her reading improve.”
Daniels and her student like partner reading, and Daniels will give her small writing assignments for her journal. If they have time left over at the end of their sessions, they will sometimes craft together. Recently the two made a Mother’s Day card.
The progress kids make with their school work shows up quickly, McKee said.
McKee said she knew she was helping recently when a second-grader she was working with mastered multiplication tables. Another student she worked with had transferred into the district, and was behind with phonics.
“We focused on reading and the comprehension and spelling for the entire school year, and so by the end of the year she was able to pass the IREAD test, which allowed her to pass into the next grade,” McKee said.
“They look forward to seeing you every week. Sometimes these children might not have a person they can count on on a weekly basis, and it becomes very important for them.”
Westwood Elementary School Principal David Ennis said the tutors’ willingness to work with students creates immeasurable benefits — both inside and outside the classroom. Watching the tutors and students get to know one another over the school year is wonderful, he added.
“It’s a great opportunity for generations to cross paths with one another in ways they normally wouldn’t be able to,” Ennis said. “For them to have a friend, another person who cares, really helps them academically as well.”
This month, Greenwood’s Oasis tutoring program is honoring tutors who’ve worked with Greenwood community schools students:
Five years of service
Ten years of service