A Generation of Readers


Submitted by: By Lauren Alpert, Member Support Coordinator, Experience Corps Bay Area

A Goldmine of Experience

For the last 10 years the Baby Boomer generation has been retiring. According to the AARP, our largest and most civically engaged American generation of all time will be retiring at a rate of about 8,000 people per day for the next 18 years. The result: a group of people with a goldmine of knowledge and experience to give to new pursuits; a second career. For these second careers, some are deciding to take paths they had otherwise avoided; in Oakland, many are looking to help local schools in the quest to ensure the success of future generations.


“One of the hardest things to find time for is the one on one reading intervention that my lowest readers so desperately need.”

In order to help our students thrive, we have to get them to school and invested in what goes on there. As noted in the recent Attendance Works “10 Steps Communities Can Take to Reduce Chronic Absence”, providing additional adult mentors for chronically absent students can increase their attendance. Once these students are in schools, this sort of inter-generational tutoring leads to more student success. As found in a study by Washington University, “[older adult] tutors were able to improve young students’ reading comprehension, one of the toughest skills to affect for struggling readers. Few other studies of tutoring interventions for beginning readers have demonstrated improvement in reading comprehension, a critical building block for literacy development.”

Part of this success comes from the reduction of adult to student ratios, made possible when an older adult volunteers in a classroom. The same Washington University study reported these students, “get a boost in reading skills equivalent to the boost they would get from being assigned to a classroom with 40 percent fewer children.” With children receiving more direct one on one attention, teachers and students can experience a more calm and encouraging environment where students can flourish.

Good for Mind and Body

Another compelling outcome of older adults working in classrooms is the health benefits it provides for the volunteers themselves. As we all grow older, it is easier to feel isolated and less connected to meaningful work once our jobs no longer structure our lives. By staying connected to their communities, older adults may avoid issues that arise later in life like loss of cognitive functions and memory loss; both are aided by working in classrooms and helping young people learn. A study done by Johns Hopkins found that when older adults volunteered in public classrooms it “resulted in improvements in cognitive functioning, this was associated with significant changes in brain activation patterns… Essentially the intervention improved brain and cognitive function in these older adults.” Simply by helping out others learn, older adults were able to reverse some of the strain put on their brains during aging.

How this is Working Locally

Our program, Experience Corps Bay Area, recruits adults 50+ to become literacy intervention tutors for K3 grade students throughout OUSD.

At Sankofa Academy, this multigenerational mentorship has proven to greatly increase the success and strength of their entire academic community. While Patrick Hamilton has a special situation in that his mother is his Experience Corps volunteer, he is able to offer wonderful insight into what this sort of multigenerational intervention can provide to a classroom, and school community: “One of the hardest things to find time for is the one on one reading intervention that my lowest readers so desperately need. Thanks to the two weekly sessions my students had with their Experience Corps volunteer last year, my lowest readers were all able to double their reading fluency. They felt like they had an adult friend who cared about the development of their reading, and this made a huge difference in their motivation and growth as readers.”

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