Member Spotlight: Supporting Lifelong Learners
Since 1999 the Jewish Coalition for Literacy has served throughout the Bay Area mobilizing over 350 volunteer school tutors a year. The Jewish Coalition for Literacy (JCL) provides one-on-one reading support for students in grades K-3rd. They are committed to working with Title 1 schools, English Learner students, and lower income students to improve literacy and comprehension skills through reading with tutors and supporting families to read together. JCL also conducts workshops for parents learning English and donate high-quality books to students and their parents to encourage reading together at home.
We sat down with Judy Pam-Bycel the East Bay Program Manager to learn more about the Jewish Coalition for Literacy and their programming for East Bay youth. We talked about their robust Adult and Peer Tutoring program and how access to reading can promote lifelong learners.
So Judy, what makes the Jewish Coalition for Literacy in East Bay stand out?
JCL’s focus is on making reading enjoyable and fun for the students and the tutors. Trained tutors volunteer with K-3rd graders for one-on-one or small group reading support to get kids excited about books and learning, and get them up to grade level by the end of third grade.
Rather than using a test-driven, curriculum-based approach focused on the technical aspects of literacy, JCL believes that children will improve in literacy and comprehension skills by reading aloud together with a nurturing adult, who has been trained by JCL to help them develop language and critical thinking skills, as well as confidence and self-esteem. In addition to reading, JCL tutors share valuable life experiences and impart their students with a sense of curiosity and a love of learning and books. This year in the East Bay Region, there are 116 adult tutors and 60 teen and pre-teen Reading Buddy Peer tutors. Recognizing that reading must be encouraged at home, we supplement our tutoring efforts with parent education workshops. We also distribute thousands of high quality children’s books so kids and parents will have good books to read together at home.
What makes you most proud about JCL over your years with the organization?
We attract great volunteers who stay with our program year after year. We’re extremely proud of our high tutor retention rate of 79%, which is well above the national and state average. Some of our tutors have been with JCL since its inception in 1999!
Also worth mentioning is our robust Peer Tutoring program, where older students from independent middle schools, tutor younger students at three East Bay public elementary schools. One of these schools is Greenleaf Elementary School in Oakland, where 2nd grade students are matched with 7th graders from Oakland Hebrew Day School for one-on-one reading and relationship-building.
Can you share a story or anecdote that has impacted you?
I am very impressed by our tutors who grow alongside the students. We all learn not to judge a book by its cover. At one of our tutor orientation sessions, I recall meeting a prospective tutor who was extremely shy and uncertain about her ability to become a successful tutor. With a little coaching, it was wonderful to see this person blossom into a most thoughtful, caring, and excellent advocate for her students. What struck me most is how much we impact not only the students, but also the adult tutors who are so committed to helping their students succeed.
Why does your organization support literacy in Oakland?
We believe that education is the ‘on-ramp’ for success in life and that the foundation of education is the ability to read. We want all children to have the motivation and reading comprehension skills necessary to read to learn throughout their life and become lifelong learners. Working together with the Oakland community through the Oakland Literacy Coalition pools our “brain” resources to enhance our efforts. It also fosters relationships with other literacy groups which in turn helps us all work together efficiently on site with school staff.
Finally, in three words how would you describe JCL?
Caring, Flexible and Efficient