Writer / Jeff Madsen Photographer / Chris Williams
Moving his finger along the words on the page, Jim Anderson reads aloud in the nearly empty classroom. Jonathon, an audience of one, listens intently, his eyes bouncing along with each word.
“Do you know this one?” Anderson asks in a quiet voice. There’s a quick shake of the head. “That’s OK. We’ll get to it.”
Anderson, a 79-year-old retired United States Postal Service worker, now spends part of his day delivering TLC to Jonathon Chelf, a first-grader at Westwood Elementary School in Greenwood. In this case, TLC stands for Treasure, Learn and Create – the core of the OASIS tutoring program.
Anderson is one of nearly 40 OASIS volunteers who tutor students in Greenwood’s elementary schools. OASIS is a national program that offers education, exercise and volunteer opportunities for adults 50 and older. The tutoring program has matched thousands of students with volunteers all across the country for the past 20 years.
A Little TLC
OASIS volunteers Treasure their students, Learn how to help them succeed in school and Create an environment of caring and empathy, said Janie Adcock, the OASIS coordinator in Greenwood. “I wish I could change the name from tutoring to mentoring because the best part is the relationship with the student,” she said.
Jonathon and Anderson visit nearly every Wednesday. The pair usually read two books that Jonathon picks out from a collection housed in the back corner of Room B7. “He likes to read, and he picks up things quickly,” Anderson said of his young friend. “But being so young, it doesn’t come easy to him. He has some trouble with the larger words, the ones with more than one syllable.”
The tutor’s main purpose is to help the youngster understand the connection between speaking, reading and writing, Adcock said. Each tutor is asked to read to the child at each session and have them dictate a journal. Ideally, the child would actually write out the journal. But Adcock said that simply takes too much time with children in kindergarten through third grade, so tutors generally write out what their students say.
The weekly sessions usually last about an hour, and they can vary in form. Some tutors sit with their students at lunch. Others have one-on-one sessions in an empty classroom or alone in the hallway.
Adcock, a former teacher in the Indianapolis Public Schools, has headed up the local program for the past six years after working as a tutor for five years. What started as a way to serve her community has turned into a passion. She now spends countless hours recruiting new volunteers like Sue Hacker.
Hacker is a retired Christian counselor. She was recruited by Adcock about four years ago at a Greenwood City Council meeting where she had been speaking in favor of a smoking ban. Tutoring gave her yet another avenue to do something productive with her time.
“There was a little void in my life at that time,” Hacker said. “I’ve always been interested in doing the right thing, so I said yes.” She hasn’t regretted the decision. Because for everything volunteers put into the program, they get back much more.
“You really feel like you’re making a difference,” Hacker said. “These children share so much with you.” Hacker tutors a second-grade student at Isom Central Elementary school.
She is well aware of how much this program means to both the students and teachers. “All of my children [work in the] education [field], so I know teachers can use a hand,” Hacker said. “They have so much paperwork to do.”
A Bit of Extra Help
Lending a helping hand is the advantage that OASIS tutors offer, said Andrea Held, a third-grade teacher at Isom. Held stressed it is not a program for failing students or “at risk” students; it’s for anyone that can benefit from a little help. “You can usually tell who needs just a little extra help,” Held said. “Sometimes they’re the last ones to turn in their assignments because they just don’t quite get it.”
OASIS volunteers are trained to offer that assistance. They undergo a comprehensive 12-hour training session that includes the program’s philosophy and classroom methods. The training program gives tutors the skills to help students understand the relationship between speaking, reading and writing. Through reading books and talking about what they’ve just read, students begin to understand the importance of reading, writing and speaking.
However, much of the method is simple common sense, said Karen Emmett, who tutors kindergartner Andie Jacks at Westwood Elementary. Like all tutors, Emmett reads to Jacks during each session. And the duo usually ends each day by playing Go Fish with alphabet cards. But Emmett, a third-year tutor, sees the program as so much more than reading and writing.
“It’s important in the elementary years to have a good grasp on reading,” said Emmett. “But part of it is getting a chance to share things with the children. They’re so young. There’s a lot for them to get to know.”
The one-on-one connection is one of the most important aspects of the program, Held said. The students quickly learn their tutor is someone who cares, not simply someone to read to them. Held has had an OASIS tutor in her room for more than five years. She has seen how extra attention focused on a child helps them make the decision to work a little harder.
“It can really have an impact on a student who may be struggling,” Held said. “It can really turn the tables for a child.”
Spending some time each week with his tutor is what Briar Wharton likes best about the OASIS program. Briar, a second-grader at Westwood, meets regularly with Tom Foster, who at 91 is the oldest tutor in the program. “The best part is talking about stuff and reading all the things we do,” Briar said.
It might seem that a 91-year-old and a second-grader may not have much to talk about, but it’s usually just the opposite. The children seem to enjoy talking to an adult other than their parents or teachers, Foster said. The two talk as much about what’s going on in their lives as they do about reading.
“Some of these kids don’t need as much help in reading as they just need someone to talk to, someone to share with.” Foster said. That goes both ways. Foster, who retired from Mayflower nearly 30 years ago, gets just as much out of their meetings as Briar.
“I get a kick out of walking into this place,” said Foster, who has been a tutor for 12 years. “The kids always come up and greet me. I guess I am part of the fixture here. I have loved every minute of it. It gives me a reason to get up and get out of the house.”
The children also seem to love every minute of it.
On this day, Anderson and his friend Jonathon share the exploits of Corduroy, the bear. Jonathon is seated on his knees on the folding chair totally oblivious to everything else around him. The bear starts to climb an escalator, and Anderson stops reading. “Have you ever wanted to climb a mountain?” he asks. Jonathon smiles and nods yes.
If you want to help a child through the OASIS program, please call Janie Adcock at 317-396-3751.