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Talking with a Tutor: How Ohio Reading Corps Allowed one Tutor to Serve Her Community

book cover with "Talking with a Tutor: How Ohio Reading Corps Allowed one Tutor to Serve Her Community"

The Ohio Reading and Math Corps program is the biggest AmeriCorps service program in the state of Ohio. Funded by ServeOhio and managed by the ESC of Central Ohio, our members receive extensive training and are placed in schools throughout Ohio providing literacy support to K-3 students (ORC) and math support to K-5 students (OMC).

Wendy Golembiewski (pictured) was a reading tutor during the 2019-2020 school year. She recently  sat down with our Communications team to share about her five-month experience as an ORC tutor and how she overcame the challenges associated with the school-building closures. 

After reading Wendy’s story, we hope you’ll consider becoming a tutor with one of our AmeriCorps programs to provide  students with extra support.

Question: Where and what grade(s) did you tutor?
Answer: I served at KIPP Elementary Columbus as a reading tutor with primarily third-grade students who were at risk of not passing the third-grade reading requirements. 

Q: How long have you been tutoring?
A: This is my first year with AmeriCorps and Ohio Reading Corps. I was only with my students for five months, and just two of those months were in the classroom.

Q: What was your role as a tutor?
A: I worked in a classroom with a reading intervention teacher and speech pathologist. Typically, I would work with a smaller group in a meeting area or common area.

My role was to partner with those teachers and the actual classroom teachers to figure out how to best meet the goals of the students. We wanted to focus a lot on vocabulary and phonetics to build a strong foundation that is necessary to become a more advanced reader. 

Q: How many students did you work with at a time?
A: I would work with students individually or up to groups of four or five. We try to keep them relatively small to make sure everybody is getting a lot of time reading. My supervisor told me to think of it as a paycheck, like every word they are reading is another dollar they are earning. They are building that income of knowledge.

Some kids had behavioral or attention challenges that made it hard for them to work in a group, so they had more success working with me one-on-one.  

Q: What got you interested in becoming a tutor? 
A: I was in between jobs trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. I have a varied career background, but most of it has been working with kids. The five-month program seemed like a really good way to see if I wanted to work with kids in grade school in my future. It could help me discover if I wanted to go back to get certified in something like teaching or social work. I had previously worked mostly with preschool and special needs kids, so it gave me a chance to leave that environment and experience something new. Outside of volunteering, I never really worked with the grade school age. 

My son always struggled with reading, so I liked the idea of helping out kids who shared similar experiences as him. I felt like I did not really know how to help him at the time, and this gave me some very specific training in what I could have been doing with him. It also checked off my bucket list. Before I had my first daughter, I really wanted to join the Peace Corps but the timing was not right. Since my kids are older now, this gave me the chance to finally serve and do it locally.
Q: How was the transition from the classroom to remote learning during COVID-19?
A: It was more difficult than what I had hoped. With the stay-at-home orders in place right before spring break, we struggled figuring out how to get the kids’ laptops from the schools and making sure families had all the resources they needed. After administrators figured out how to give teachers access to the children, they brought the reading tutors back. 

I had to communicate with families to set up meeting times that worked around their schedules. It was especially difficult trying to work with those who were not as technically savvy or if the children were staying with a babysitter. The internet connection for a lot of my students was pretty sketchy, so that made it pretty hard when you are using all online resources.

Q: What types of training did you receive?
A: They first provided us with an onboarding meeting where we would discuss some classroom management skills and general ideas on how to entice the students. The biggest part of the trainings was about having a growth mindset, especially with the group of kids that we are working with. Positive reinforcement is important and reminding the students that although they are not there yet, it is coming. 

When the remote transition hit, we were given a lot of trainings to do online that were put out specifically for educators. There were classes that were an hour long to some seminars that were 15 hours long that were provided for free through the Ohio Reading Corps.

Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of this experience?
A: I thought it was going to be the metrics at the end of the year, but for me that is not what it turned out to be. It was developing relationships with the kiddos since I had limited time with them in the classroom. When we switched to remote learning, I thought this was going to be extremely difficult, but in a way, it made the relationships stronger. The kids were dropping their guards and we had that special one-on-one time as opposed to being in a group. 

I also got to know the kids in their own homes and know their family members a little more, which is something I would not have had in the classroom so that was really special. One of my kids went to work every day with his dad at an auto shop, and he was telling me that he learned how to change tires, take a tire off the rim, and all this cool stuff that would not have happened in normal circumstances.

Q: Do you have a favorite memory from your time as a tutor? If so, what made it so memorable?
A: One day during the time of unrest in Minneapolis, one of my students asked to read a book that was based on a Bob Marley Song called “Every Little Thing.” That is the type of song you listen to when you are going through struggles, and after he finished reading, he sang the song to me. It was a really great day and experience to have with him. 

Q: Do you feel like you were given all the tools needed to provide for your students? If so, what types of materials and resources did you use?
A: Yes, I could use anything that was available in the reading intervention rooms. Often the teachers were using those, so I would try to find different things. Initially, we were given access to online books through Reading A-Z. We could print out books, worksheets, activities, and if you were new to tutoring there were so many helpful resources on there. 

Ohio Reading Corps also has a wonderful Google Drive that they put together through the years with games, reading resources, scripts for readers theater, and anything else you may need. 

Q: Would you encourage others to tutor? What advice do you have for new tutors?
A: I would absolutely encourage anyone to become a tutor. It is a great experience getting to know the kids and forming those trustworthy connections. It is rewarding knowing that you are giving them the ability to count on one person to help them overcome their issues with reading. 

My advice is to make it as fun as possible for your students and to be their cheerleader. You can earn educational credit through the program, so this is a great place to start if you are interested in working with kids to get a taste of what it is like. Do not be afraid to get to know the staff and ask questions. Ask for feedback on what more you can do and what you can do better. Use the resources you have; you are all on the same team!

Q: In 10 years when you look back on this experience, what do you think you will remember most?
A: I will definitely remember my students and the little moments we shared together. This experience really opened my eyes to the gaps in the educational system. I realized that many of these students struggled with vocabulary so much because they did not have access to resources that familiarized them with certain words. 

Q: Is there anything else you want people to know about your experience or the program in general?
A: I worked with amazing people and really enjoyed observing how teachers interacted with their students. I learned that growth truly is a mindset, so it is not always about the scores but how you handle certain situations. 

Madison Powers is the communications and marketing intern at the ESC. Madison is entering her senior year at The Ohio State University, studying Strategic Communication with a minor in Professional Writing. She has studied abroad in Italy, worked as a student caller at the Ohio State Call Center, assisted in research for the School of Communication, and served as public relations chair for Pink Out at Ohio State.