In continuation of our 15th year celebration, we sat down with Mary Barnes to talk about her time volunteering at New Haven Reads. Mary has volunteered with NHR for ten years!
NHR: When and why did you first start volunteering with NHR?
MARY: I started tutoring in September 2007 when my husband and I started an extended moving process from the Hartford area to New Haven. I had stopped working, temporarily, and was looking for volunteer opportunities. We lived near NHR, and although I had never really tutored, I had raised 3 children and occasionally helped them with their homework. I thought I would give it a try and after meeting and talking to Chris Alexander, I was immediately struck by her passion for the program that she had created and the need for volunteers to work with the students.
NHR: What keeps you coming back?
The kids keep me coming back along with the realization that there are always more students who need extra help in reading than the number of tutors who volunteer. Seeing the reactions of the children when they realize that they can read a book, sound out words, explain a story, answer questions about the story, complete a lesson on Lexia or ETC, I don’t know who is more excited, the student or me. Seeing progress, whether it is immediate or takes months, and growth in their confidence and interest in learning are very rewarding because you know that the student feels better about him/herself and hopefully is developing a love of learning.
NHR: From your personal perspective, how has NHR changed over the last 10 years?
MARY: Certainly the program has grown in tutoring locations, the number of students who are tutored, and the resources. As I recall, we always used Lexia and ETC, read books, and kept notes on each tutoring session, but we also could spend more time on homework and math if that’s what the student needed help with. I remember a mother who would get very upset if her daughter didn’t finish her math homework during the tutoring session because the mom was not able to help her with it at home and wanted to make sure that it was completed and that, hopefully, her daughter understood it.
Over the years the program has evolved so that the central focus is reading and the tutoring session are more structured. The staff is larger and more skilled, and has the resources and expertise to test the students, analyze the results, and determine what type of materials and teaching techniques would be helpful. NHR also offers workshops for the tutors and staff periodically observes tutoring sessions and makes suggestions on techniques and resources that would be helpful. NHR also attends PPT sessions and advocates for students which is very helpful for many of the families.
NHR: What kind of impact do you believe that NHR has on our community and the city of New Haven?
Mary: NHR is a priceless resource for the students, families, and City. They offer free help to all students in a city where achievement and test scores are often below the state average and reading levels are below grade level. The teachers don’t always have the time to provide extra help and one on one attention that many of the students need to improve their reading levels. Many students are tutored twice a week and look forward to the attention and exercises that help them to improve. Reading is a basic and lifelong skill which is essential in every subject and expands the learning potential and curiosity of students.
NHR: What impact, if any, do you feel that volunteering at NHR has had on you?
Mary: Tutoring has helped me to realize the potential of ALL children to be readers and achieve academic success. It has made me more patient and expanded my understanding of the learning process and how their are different ways we learn. It is very rewarding and brings me joy to see the progress and share in their excitement. I love being able to help them become better readers because I love to read and feel that it is such an important part of my life.