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Locals Take Time to Read With Schoolchildren

The proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” is easily exemplified within the Pasadena Unified School District, where volunteers ranging from high schoolers to retirees spend an hour a week helping schoolchildren learn to read.
These volunteers, who work through the nationwide nonprofit Reading Partners, work with kids at seven PUSD elementary schools each week, using an hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to tutor them on reading fundamentals and in practice.
“We’ve designed it in a way that mirrors what’s being taught in the classroom,” said Laura Zachar, executive director of Reading Partners Los Angeles.
Founded in 1999, Reading Partners expanded to include three Pasadena schools in 2008 and four more have been added since 2014. Private fundraising primarily drives the organization. Locally, Zachar said up to half of their Pasadena schools’ elementary students could be behind on their reading level.
“What that means is that we have an enormous waiting list of kids in the community,” Zachar said. “At any point, we have several hundred kids who are on
that list. We’d love to continue that growth but we’re kind of hindered by the (shortage of) volunteers.”
Zachar’s big push recently is to recruit more volunteers. They then are trained in how to work with students and how to fill out weekly reports on their progress.
“It can pretty much be anyone in the community,” she said. “We get a lot of folks who have recently retired and are still used to working.”
At Madison Elementary School, Marion and Mike Quinn, who are married, are two such examples. Marion Quinn started volunteering two years ago after retiring as a dermatologist, thanks to the recommendation of a teacher friend at the school.
“I fret about the reading skills of young kids, especially in more disadvantaged neighborhoods,” she said. “This has a structure with a very clear process for each lesson. That’s why I stuck with it, because it’s not confusing for the tutors.
“If you can spare an hour a week, do it,” Marion Quinn added.
This was how she got her husband, a retired radiologist, to start helping out. Mike Quinn admitted he had his own reading troubles going back to when he was 6.
“Having a tutor makes all the difference,” he said. “It’s something we’re doing for the next generation. It’s not just sitting down and reading. It’s a lot of exercises and encouraging students to do a lot of work in a short period of time.
“It’s rewarding to see them improving,” Mike Quinn added. “There’s no substitute for confidence.”
PUSD Board Member Elizabeth Pomeroy said she volunteered with Reading Partners at Washington Elementary School for seven years and knew from personal experience that teachers loved how it helped students improve, even at the expense of class time. She said teachers often quipped that they wished there was a “math partners” equivalent.
“I found that it seemed very helpful to be bonding with one individual child over time,” said Pomeroy, who has a Ph.D. in English. “I wouldn’t have stayed doing it for seven years if I didn’t believe it was effective and helpful.”
Joan Fauvre, a former Los Angeles Unified School District educator who retired as executive director of the Pasadena Education Foundation, started volunteering with Reading Partners a year ago.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s very satisfying for a volunteer. They’re so organized and there’s a lot of support. Even if you’ve never been a teacher or worked in a classroom with kids, it’s something you can pick up easily.”

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