“First students learn to read, and then they read to learn.”
This old saying is as true today as it ever was and is the driving force behind a program coming to Casa Grande. This program is called the AARP Foundation Experience Corps, and it has been implemented in 22 cities nationwide. The program brings volunteers 50 years and older into the classroom to work directly with first, second and third graders to help them learn how to read.
Right now in Arizona, only 44% of our third graders are reading as well as they should be; the Pinal County rate is 37%, and here in Casa Grande we are at 30%. This is despite the hard work and dedication of our teachers. They just do not have the time to help many of our students make these first critical steps to becoming a reader.
This is where the volunteers come in. They work with the students one-on-one to give them the help they need to improve their reading. AARP has set up a very structured program that allows volunteers from all walks of life to become effective tutors.
Multiple studies from Johns Hopkins and Washington universities show that 62% of the students in the 22 existing programs improve their reading by a half grade level or more. The volunteers also have improved wellness and quality of life. Volunteers feel a greater sense of purpose and have stronger social connections.
This new AARP Experience Corps Pinal-Casa Grande program is a partnership of the City of Casa Grande, Casa Grande Elementary School District, AARP Foundation and Achieve Pinal. Achieve Pinal is a local volunteer organization dedicated to developing a competitive workforce for current and future jobs by improving educational attainment in Pinal County. Achieve Pinal is an initiative of Pinal Alliance for Economic Growth.
Casa Grande is the first rural community in Arizona to be selected as an Affiliate of the AARP Foundation and joins programs in Tempe and Phoenix as the third in the state. This is a two-year pilot program in Casa Grande and will be offered to other communities in Pinal County in year three.
Volunteer applications for AARP Experience Corps Pinal-Casa Grande are now open through Sept. 18. For details on informational sessions or to apply to become a volunteer, please contact Caryl Chase at firstname.lastname@example.org.