The Alexandria City Public School budget is currently being deliberated and the Superintendent’s budget calls for cuts to the Community Partners program from which the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium (ATC) funding is drawn. Cuts to the ATC budget would limit the number of schools, volunteers and ultimately children who benefit from this program. As a third-year volunteer with the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium (ATC) Book Buddies program, I would like to acknowledge the ATC for the high quality of this early literacy program. The time I spend working with my young reader is richly rewarding for me, and I can tell by his progress that he benefits from our time together. Moreover, it is gratifying to know that among the children in the ATC programs who were reading below grade level at the beginning of the year, over 80 percent were reading at or above benchmark levels by the end of the year. Having sound reading skills is a major factor in academic achievement and a key to annual yearly progress.
As a tutor I feel as though I receive more than sufficient instruction and teaching tools to ensure that the time I spend with my first grade “buddy” is productive and beneficial. Based on an approach developed at the Curry School of Education of the University of Virginia, I am given a lesson plan for each 30-60 minute session. The lesson plan is tailored to the needs of the individual student and comes with appropriate books and word games to carry out the session’s objectives. At the end of the session, I take a few minutes to jot down for the Book Buddies coordinator my observations regarding the student’s progress, any stumbling blocks he might have encountered and his successes during the session. This feedback guides the coordinator in preparing the next plan. I find the Book Buddies coordinator to be accessible and only too willing to help when I feel the need to consult with her. She is a very valuable resource. While I am pleased to be able to give back to the community in such a meaningful way, even more satisfying is the knowledge that my contribution makes a difference in a student’s achieving grade level reading skills as opposed to feeling forever behind and frustrated in school. Last year, just after we had given out gift books to our students at the end of the year, I spotted a child proudly sharing his books with a group of his classmates — a heartwarming example of how books and reading can increase not only educational but also social capital in our schools. I encourage anyone who loves children who might be looking for a way to volunteer to consider an investment in the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium, a program that pays great dividends. And I urge the School Board and the superintendent to fully fund the Community Partners budget.