Experience Corps provides mentors for young readers
Frank Nibley is a 72-year-old retiree living in SaddleBrooke, but he’s not sitting at home watching TV or rocking in a chair.
Three days each week he gets on the road at 6 a.m. to arrive at Centennial Elementary School, 2200 W. Wetmore Road, at 7 a.m., an hour before the bell rings.
Each morning he settles himself in the teachers lounge, where he plans his five-hour days for his seven students – even though he’s not a teacher.
He’s been working as a mentor and volunteer tutor for the past two years as part of the Experience Corps, a program founded in 1995 that offers reading and literacy support to underprivileged students. Each student, in kindergarten through third grade, is partnered with a volunteer – a 55-or-older retiree – who provides one-on-one tutoring to improve the students’ reading level.
Nibley puts in 12 to 15 hours per week and receives a stipend of about $214 a month. The rest of the 36 volunteers in the program put in anywhere from two to 15 hours a week.
All volunteers work within two partnered school districts, Flowing Wells and Tucson unified school districts, at various schools.
The 6-foot-2 Nibley, also known as “Grandpa,” sits on miniature chairs at tiny tables, helping children learn to read.
“It’s been most gratifying. There is a definite bond, and if you haven’t done it academically, you’ve at least established a relationship,” he said.
And that bond is no exception when it comes Tyrese Finley, 7, a first-grader whom Nibley began helping last month.
“I was really wanting to see him,” Tyrese said of Nibley’s tardiness that day. “I thought he was sick.”
Tyrese quickly jumped from chapter one to chapter two of “Shhh!,” a 15-page book for his grade level. Two weeks ago, he barely got through the first page. He later finished “Hello!” – in a couple of minutes.
Nibley’s second student, third-grader Briea Broadbent, 8, held her book closely to her chest as she marched out of her classroom in her pink dress and black tennis shoes. She summarized a story from the book to Nibley.
It’s about a “little red ant that went roaming in the cornfields,” she said.
“Some words I didn’t know before,” she said. “Now I know (the words) ‘far away’ and ‘went together.’”
Briea said she gets along with “Mr. Frankenstein,” referring to Nibley’s height.
“He makes me laugh,” she said, and there’s no doubt she would like to see more just like him.
Tyrese and Briea are among the 70 percent of studentsreceiving free or reduced-price lunches at Centennial and the nearly 300 students in the Flowing Wells district not reading at their expected reading level. Both are criteria needed to participate in the program.
Tyrese’s mother noticed a rise in his self-esteem.
“It makes me feel happy seeing that progress in my son,” said Rosaura Finley, the school’s medical assistant. “His attitude is so positive, and Mr. Nibley always makes the effort to come in and let me know how Tyrese is doing.
“I know firsthand,” she said, “as a mother that it does make a positive impact on the kids.”
“All the kids love that personal attention,” said Lisa Stewart, school services coordinator. “They all love Frank. He’s in high demand.
“He’s a great role model to have in their lives,” Stewart said. “Some don’t have a grandparent, and they look up to him as that.”
How did Nibley get to be the “Grandpa” in their young lives?
After a background check, fingerprinting, applications with the schools, orientations and eight hours of training, he was able to play the part.
Nibley also is required to fill out a monthly tutor log, in which he outlines each student’s progress by putting check marks next to “good” or “bad” in different categories of the student’s work ethic.
Nibley goes the extra step.
For each student, he drafts a one-page report, each taking about 45 minutes. In his cover letter, which he submits along with the student reports, he evaluates his experience and the effectiveness of the program. His service is then evaluated by school officials.
It’s not all about tutoring.
Sometimes a strong relationship is more significant, said Lynette Patton, Centennial’s principal.
“Seeing the relationship being built is huge,” Patton said. “It’s helping them to do well in school. I think they’ll be more successful because of it, and the kids just love the attention.
“It’s hard to tie academics to it,” she said, “but we do know we are affecting them with relationships.”
That feeling is the same for the director of the program, Linda Krause.
“The work they are doing in schools, oftentimes you can’t measure the results with tests,” Krause said. “A child who came to them who wasn’t reading a word of English can now read fluently. You see different results that aren’t captured with a test.”
Nibley gives special attention to each of his seven students – 30 minutes each.
And “in order to be effective in what we’re doing,” Nibley added, “you have to mold yourself according to their expectations. You have to put focus on each child. It’s very fulfilling, and it’s very satisfying. I’ve had a wonderful life because of it.”
ON THE WEB
To become an Experience Corps volunteer, call Hailey Gibbons at 881-3300 Ext. 126, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit experiencecorps.org.