READ/SAN DIEGO AND ITS PARTNERS
READ/San Diego staff devote much time to recruiting new tutors. Almost always there are far more learners waiting for a tutor than there are tutors available. The waiting list typically has between 150 and 200 learners. Tutor recruitment is a constant challenge for READ/San Diego and one of the main reasons they must reach out to partner organizations with access to pools of potential tutors.
READ/San Diego faces considerable competition for volunteer tutors. When the economy is good, many potential tutors are working and have little time for volunteering. Other volunteer-based literacy programs also are constantly seeking tutors, as are scores of other organizations that rely on volunteers. There seems to be a chronic shortage of non-white tutors, a challenge that READ/San Diego took up recently by aggressive recruitment. As a result, READ/San Diego's percentage of non-white tutors went from 12 to 25.
READ/San Diego uses a range of outreach techniques to recruit tutors, but its preferred strategy is to recruit a partner organization and then help the organization recruit tutors and sometimes learners as well. READ/San Diego also is often approached by organizations that have a group of learners they want to serve, but that need help getting tutors and setting up the program. In addition, READ/San Diego supplies brochures and posters to branch libraries and runs advertisements on radio and TV. The program at St. Vincent de Paul Village, described below, is a good example of the kind of partnership READ/San Diego seeks.
READ/San Diego provides monthly orientation and training sessions for prospective tutors that usually draw between 10 and 35 tutors. The sessions are often run by the director, assistant director, and literacy tutor trainers (who are often reading specialists) and include all the information a new tutor needs to make the commitment and get started teaching. They learn about how to teach reading and writing, how adults learn, how to be sensitive to adult learners' self-esteem issues about their low literacy skills, how to get technical assistance from READ/San Diego staff, where to meet with their learners, how to deal with apparent learning disabilities, and how to collect and report data on the tutoring sessions to READ/San Diego.
Tutors typically are matched with learners after the orientation and training sessions, when READ/San Diego staff have learned more about individual tutors, their schedules, their preferences, and their talents. Once they have begun their tutoring sessions, tutors receive substantial and ongoing professional development. One popular event is the READ/San Diego Tutor Conference. Every June, READ/San Diego hosts this well-attended statewide tutor conference, which offers a full day of training and seminars for tutors throughout California.
When a tutor and a learner sit down for a weekly session, their work may cover anything from basic reading skills to preparation for the GED exam or other specific goals determined by the learner. READ/San Diego uses the National Institute for Literacy's Equipped for the Future (EFF) content standards to guide their curriculum choices.
Tutor-learner pairs typically meet for about one year, but many continue for years, forming a strong bond as the learners achieve their goals and set new ones. The most common meeting place is the local library, but pairs also meet at restaurants (Starbucks Coffee shops offer free coffee to READ/San Diego tutor-learner pairs), churches, and community centers. Tutors are required to record the dates and duration of their meetings, learner progress, assessment results, and other information on a form designed for this purpose. READ/San Diego collects and uses these forms to document progress towards meeting its own goals and to make decisions on program improvement.
Tutors report enormous satisfaction when their learners progress, gain self-confidence, and meet their goals. They also praise READ/San Diego staff for being responsive, sympathetic, and energetic coaches, there "when you need them." When a group of tutors was asked why they tutor, one responded, "Sometimes miracles happen."
LEARNERS APPRECIATE READ/SAN DIEGO
As one READ/San Diego learner put it, "This has been beyond my dreams. I don't fit tutoring into my life. I fit my life into tutoring." Another learner said, "I call my tutor 'my angel.'" And another described the results of learning to read: "I can go on vacation now every day. I just pick up a book."