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Experience Corps program boosts student scores

Stacy M. Brown | 12/11/2015, 6 a.m.
Elementary school students tutored by volunteers over 50 years of age in an after school literacy program made faster than ...
AARP Foundation Experience Corps volunteer Marvin Murphy with students at a local elementary school. (Courtesy Photo)

Elementary school students tutored by volunteers over 50 years of age in an after school literacy program made faster than expected gains according to a standardized assessment tool, the local AARP Foundation announced.

Students were tested at the beginning and the end of the program with those demonstrating the greatest need assigned to small groups that met each week with an AARP Foundation Experience Corps volunteer to improve their reading skills and help them read at the appropriate grade level.

After the three-and-a-half month program, children in the small groups made almost five months of progress towards grade level while students in larger homework assistance groups made more than six months of progress, test results show.

Officials directly related the success to AARP Experience Corps, an evidence-based and award-winning AARP Foundation literacy program that improves the literacy rates of children in kindergarten through third grade.

“Baltimore is the largest of the 24 Experience Corps programs nationwide and one of the keys to our success in Baltimore is that many of our volunteer members live in or around the neighborhoods where they serve,” said Bill Romani, the branch director of the AARP Foundation’s Experience Corps in Baltimore.

“That gives them an invaluable perspective on where the children are coming from and the circumstances many are facing and thus, a potentially deeper bond with the child. Working in their own neighborhoods also gives or volunteers a greater sense of commitment and ownership of their work,” Romani said. “They aren’t just volunteering, but volunteering to improve their neighborhood. That’s a compelling connection.”

Launched in Baltimore 18 years ago, the Experience Corps program counts as an innovative, high-impact and evidence-based program that utilizes the time, skills and experience of adults 50 and older not only to benefit their own health and well being but also to improve educational outcomes for elementary school-age children.

The program provides tutoring and mentoring and each of the trained AARP Foundation Experience Corps volunteers commit five to 15 hours per week during the year and a team of six to 20 adults are placed in local schools working at the direction of teachers to support students.

Sixty-one students who participated in the after school program were enrolled in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s “OrchKids” Program, year-round music program designed to create social change and nurture promising futures for youth in Baltimore City neighborhoods through academic support and music education.

“Quality out of school tutoring is a key ingredient to making sure children are reading at grade level,” Romani said “These findings suggest that Experience Corps’ successful in-class model may also translate into after school programs, providing another opportunity for our volunteers to further impact the literacy development of the children we serve.”

The initial positive results have provided a solid foundation to build on and improve the quality of the program and the number of children it serves, Romani said, noting also that between the first and second year of the after school program, the number of students served jumped by 50 percent.

“We view the Experience Corps program as a win-win for our volunteer members and students,” Romani said.

Published reports through the Johns Hopkins Center for Aging and Health indicate that while the program improves school climate and academic achievement, there is also an improvement in the physical, social and mental health of the older adult volunteer members.