Program has more than 50 instructors taking turns volunteering in many area schools — more are needed, say Oasis
By Mary Beth Roach
Inette Herndon calls it one of the most rewarding experiences of her life, and Rosalind NaPier says it allows her to continue her love of reading and pass it on to the future generation.
The “it” they’re referring to is the tutoring program that Upstate Oasis runs at some area elementary schools.
Both retirees give two hours each Tuesday morning at McKinley-Brighton Elementary School, on Syracuse’s south side, to assist first-grade students to develop their reading skills. They each work with four students, providing individual instruction for 30 minutes each week over the course of the school year. Herndon has been a tutor with Oasis for nine years.
“I always try to encourage that whatever they want to do, they can do it if they apply themselves and believe that they can do it and try, put the effort in,” Herndon said.
Before retiring, Herndon had worked for the state of New York. She later went to work at National Grid and retired from its human resources division.
“One part of my job was to process new employees, tell them the benefits of working there,” she said. “I liked talking with people, and I thought I would volunteer after I retired.”
Upon leaving National Grid, she worked at the Oasis office, then located in the ShoppingTown mall, but then decided she would really enjoy going into the schools. Her first school was Elmwood, on South Avenue in Syracuse, but when that closed, she moved to nearby McKinley-Brighton.
NaPier, who has been a tutor for five years, had worked at the Onondaga County Public Library for 31 years, and among her roles there, she was the youth services coordinator. She had always been interested in early literacy and the Success by Six initiative, which helps to prepare children to succeed when they enter school. She was looking for a way to keep that going once she retired, she said.
“This helps me to really share my love of reading and my love of children’s books with some individual children,” she said. “It’s working with individuals, and I really like getting to know the children, trying to motivate them to read, trying to get them enthusiastic about learning to read.”
Moreover, the tutoring program enables her to become involved in the community.
“It gets me into the community, “ she added. “I’m hoping that I’m making some kind of contribution to the community.”
According to Shelly Lee, the Oasis intergenerational tutor coordinator, “it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Lee works with liaisons from different schools, putting the tutors and students together and coordinating schedules.
“We’re looking for those kids that need a boost, that need a friend, that need someone to believe in them,” Lee added.
Oasis is also looking for more volunteer tutors. Currently, there are more than 50, instructing at Meachem, McKinley-Brighton, Franklin and Huntington schools in Syracuse; at the Central Square School District; and at Willow Field Elementary in Liverpool. And although the numbers have increased in the last few months, there is still a need, Lee pointed out.
They are in need of more diversity among their tutors in terms of their experiences, she said. No teaching experience is required, she noted, although many of the tutors are retired educators.
This is the perfect outlet for those who perhaps miss their grandchildren, Lee said, or want to stay productive after they retire. The tutoring sessions occur within the school day, so there is some flexibility to the scheduling, but there needs to be consistency, which is critical for small children, Lee said. The minimum is one hour each week, but Herndon and NaPier do two hours a week. The tutors can give the preference for the school they go to and the grade level — kindergarten through third grade.
But the most important part, for Lee, is the connection between the tutor and the students .
There is a one-day training session that Lee conducts for potential tutors that follows the plan provided by Oasis National.
The tutors often have mini-meetings throughout the school year, as well, to discuss different strategies and methods to better engage the students.
She has planned a training session from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Oasis Center in East Syracuse. Those interested in becoming a tutor can contact Lee at 315-464-1746 or LeeShe@upstate.edu.