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Reading tutors make the grade at Guadalupe

When Jane Hobden and her husband moved to Salt Lake City after immigrating to the United States from England, she needed something to do to fill her time.

Hobden had been a teacher in England, but her teaching certificate wasn't valid in the United States. Looking through the volunteer section of the newspaper one day, she noticed an advertisement for volunteers at a place called Guadalupe Schools.

Deciding to try it out, she started spending 15 hours a week reading to a portion of the school's at-risk population of around 60 children, reading one-on-one with them to help improve their reading and comprehension skills. Hobden discovered that she liked it so well that eight years later she is still volunteering.

"When my mom comes to visit, she likes it so much that she comes in, too," Hobden said.

Hobden and a group of older, retired community members, many of them former teachers, participate in the volunteer program. The tutors use the time they have with each child, around 15 minutes or so each day, to read one-on-one with them. A tutor typically works with a group of seven or eight children. Many of the students come from bilingual backgrounds with parents who are unable to help them with reading, especially comprehension.

"For all our children, language is an issue, whether they're native English speakers or not," said Inga Chapman, volunteer coordinator for Guadalupe Schools.

The students go through an entire program to become proficient readers. Tutors begin working with the children in the first grade with a pre-reading program that involves reading lower-level books, as well as phonics and writing.

When students are ready to advance, they transition into another older reading program, based on sight words and comprehension. Once the children are proficient readers with that program, they move on to the accelerated reader program, which covers chapter books and comprehension.

"I think with all three of the programs, basically we're dealing with language, reading, comprehension and writing, which all have to do with reading," Chapman said. "It's important that each child is working at the level of his or her ability."

Kay Gushee, a retired teacher who has been a tutor at the school for 11 years, says that much of the focus in the first grade is on decoding, but not much emphasis is placed on reading comprehension. Tutors help first-graders with the decoding process and practice reading. In the second and third grades they work on comprehension.

"We want to encourage recreational reading for pleasure and fun, as something for the kids to do," said Betty Hurlbut, another retired teacher who has been volunteering for 12 years.

Principal Patty Walker said the one-on-one time, which couldn't happen without the volunteers, is invaluable.

"We couldn't do it without them. For our students to have the opportunity to read one-on-one every day makes such a big difference," she said. "(The students) love having someone to just talk to, to have a time during the day that they get one-on-one attention . . . They're anxious to work with their (tutor)."

Walker says it's significant that many of the volunteers have been coming consistently for such a long time. It gives the students something to look forward to and helps them develop a relationship with their tutor.

"Volunteers pay attention to family things. They know when a child is in the hospital or when it's their birthday, which opens up a dialogue between them," said Delores Malovich, a first-grade teacher at Guadalupe Schools.

Not only does the program benefit the students but also the tutors.

"I think as much as it's a gift to us, it's a gift to them," Malovich said.