By Mary Lou Valenzuela, originally published in azcentral.com on 5/29/14.
As a Wells Fargo executive, Yolanda Stokes is a busy woman. She didn’t always have the time to drive 40 minutes from work to volunteer at J.R. Davis Elementary in south Phoenix. But as a former student in the Roosevelt School District, she wanted to give back. So when she found out about the United Way’s new tutoring opportunity, which allows her to work with a student remotely, she immediately signed up.
“I can sit at my work desk and give a gift that is immeasurable to a student that is so appreciative and so deserving,” she said.
Each week, Yolanda helps second-grader Jaffett Reyes with his reading. She calls into his classroom from her office phone and reviews reading-comprehension activities and stories from a computer interface they can both see. Yolanda and Jaffett are part of United Way’s tutoring pilot that uses TutorMate technology and volunteerism to improve children’s literacy. Volunteers partner with first-, second- and third-graders in the Roosevelt School District and set weekly appointments to provide support during 30-minute tutoring sessions. The pilot is the first of its kind in the Valley, United Way officials said.
“In just a few months, reading and confidence have improved, behaviors have improved and students that had a difficult time focusing are really putting forth the effort so they can participate,” said Anita McFarland, principal of J.R. Davis Elementary School. “Initially, we were worried participation would be viewed negatively by the students’ peers, but instead of feeling singled out, they feel chosen … every student wishes they could be one of the lucky ones to receive a weekly phone call.”
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