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Wed, Oct. 23

PUSD elementaries need volunteer reading tutors

Karen Benson, Reading Specialist at Taylor Hicks Elementary, left, demonstrates the Barton Reading and Spelling System to volunteer Renee Klohr. (Courtesy photo)

Karen Benson, Reading Specialist at Taylor Hicks Elementary, left, demonstrates the Barton Reading and Spelling System to volunteer Renee Klohr. (Courtesy photo)

"I like books. I wish I could read." Karen Benson, Reading Specialist at Taylor Hicks Elementary, heard those words recently from a first-grader she was screening for the school's reading intervention program.

The Prescott Unified School District is looking for volunteers interested in helping children improve their reading and spelling skills. Benson uses volunteers in her Read, Spell, and Smile Program at Taylor Hicks Elementary. Trained volunteers work one on one with students in grades 1 through 4 who have spelling and reading difficulties - including dyslexia.

Volunteer reading tutors receive approximately six hours of initial training in the Barton Reading and Spelling System before they begin working with a student. A minimum commitment of two hours a week is needed to help students catch up to their grade level. This volunteer opportunity requires a volunteer who is willing to complete the training and commit to ongoing, regular involvement with a student - and the rewards are tremendous.

"Our students really look forward to the one-on-one time with their volunteer tutor. Past volunteers have told us how much they enjoyed the relationship with the student and how gratified they were to support that student's growth," Benson said. "Volunteers have helped students go from wondering why they don't get it and their classmates do, to seeing that indeed they can learn to read!"

Melissa Scott, Reading Specialist at Abia Judd Elementary, coordinates the Side-by-Side Reading Program. This program also relies on trained volunteers to tutor elementary students. Students who are identified by their classroom teacher as reading below grade level are recommended for this program. After completing the program training, volunteers provide a 30-minute, one-on-one lesson to students in grades 2-4. First-graders receive the same approach in a small group setting. The goal is to quickly accelerate students and phase them out of the program, making room for another child in need.

"Approximately 30 students are receiving services from the Side-By-Side Program at any given time," Scott said. "Our amazing volunteers have been instrumental in helping hundreds of students become lifelong readers and learners."

Lincoln Elementary has a similar reading intervention program called Walk to Read. Betsy Whearley has been a PUSD volunteer reading tutor for three years and every year she receives thank you notes from the students she has worked with. Whearley's favorite letter came from a first-grader who had really struggled to adjust to reading. The letter said, "All because of you - you showed me how to read a book and write. You have the magic to make me happy. You have a special heart."

"Being a reading tutor is just one of the volunteer opportunities right now at PUSD," says Lisa Garnes, volunteer coordinator. Volunteers are also needed in after school programs, in classrooms to work with students on assignments, and for special events and school projects.

"Volunteering in the schools makes you realize how much personal and individual attention really means to a child - and what a difference it can make for them," Garnes says.

To become a PUSD Volunteer, call the Volunteer Program at 928-445-5400, ext. 140, or email Lisa Garnes at

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