Read On Communities Join Forces to Expand Experience Corps Tutoring Program

September 01, 2023

Read On Communities

The Arizona Governor’s Office has awarded a grant totaling $896,110 to three Read On Communities — Mesa, Pinal, and Tempe — to expand the evidence-based AARP Foundation Experience Corps tutoring program to serve more schools and young students in areas where long-standing achievement gaps were exacerbated during the pandemic.

AARP Foundation Experience Corps is a Tier 1 (strong evidence) literacy intervention designed to help struggling readers improve their accuracy, fluency, and comprehension skills and become proficient by the end of third grade. Tutors are highly-trained volunteers, age 50 and older, who provide one-on-one, structured support for students in kindergarten to third grade.

Read On Arizona convened Read On Mesa, Read On Northern Pinal County, and Read On Tempe for the funding opportunity and led the successful consortia application to expand existing partnerships with AARP Experience Corps and serve up to 1,000 additional K-3 students across 40 schools in Maricopa and Pinal counties.

The one-year grant is part of $50 million in federal relief dollars allocated by Governor Katie Hobbs to address the negative impacts of COVID-19 on student learning, social and emotional behavior, and teacher professional development.

“Read On Arizona brought this grant to our attention, coordinated the efforts of three AARP affiliates, and wrote the grant using information provided by the affiliates,” said Jerry Stabley, a partner in Read On Northern Pinal County. “We could not have asked for a better partner in this project.”

The three Read On Communities will expand existing partnerships with AARP Experience Corps as follows:

Read On Tempe

Tempe is in its 18th year of providing Experience Corps tutoring. Due to its long-term success, the Tempe program now serves as the national model. The program currently provides tutoring services in 14 Title I schools in the Tempe Elementary School District and one elementary school in the Kyrene School District. The new funding will provide services in the two additional Tempe Title I schools and another Kyrene elementary school. In all, Experience Corps will serve 500 students in 17 schools.

Read On Northern Pinal County

Experience Corps currently serves three school districts in Pinal County. The new funding will enable the program to dramatically expand its reach by serving as many as seven additional districts in mostly rural areas. In all, AARP Experience Corps Achieve Pinal will reach approximately two-thirds of the area of the county and over 80% of the public elementary school population. The program will focus on tutoring second and third graders.

Read On Mesa

Mesa will leverage the experience, success, and support of Tempe and Pinal to establish the Experience Corps tutoring program in Mesa. "We are thrilled to launch Experience Corps Mesa in six Mesa Public Schools elementary campuses starting in January 2024," said Sarah Tolar, education and workforce administrator for the City of Mesa and community lead for Read On Mesa. "Our goal is to provide literacy support in Mesa schools while providing a valuable opportunity for our retired residents to contribute to education."

Evidence-Based Strategies

Scaling up evidence-based literacy solutions is a strategic priority of Read On Arizona’s efforts to boost third-grade reading in our state. Accelerating progress in improving student outcomes requires a comprehensive set of strategies, including high-quality instruction, interventions, and a system of screening and assessment, to ensure that all children receive the support they need to achieve language and literacy milestones.

"We know what works," said Arizona Literacy Director Terri Clark. "We don't have to guess. Research shows how to most effectively support struggling readers, so we need to lean into those proven approaches. Our students deserve our best."

Experience Corps is an evidence-based intervention that meets the highest level of ESSA evidence standards — Tier 1: Strong Evidence. Research studies showed that Experience Corps produced positive student outcomes including improved literacy skills and better reading test scores. Tutors also benefit from the program.

Community volunteers over 50 provide ongoing, individualized support for students in kindergarten through third grade who are below grade-level reading benchmarks. Tutoring sessions are focused on improving fluency — the ability to read accurately, smoothly, with expression and comprehension. Fluency is the foundation for further growth in reading and learning, and researchers consider reading disfluency as a key contributing factor for reading difficulties, especially in reading comprehension. The program ensures volunteer success through extensive training, peer networks, and ongoing evaluation.

In addition to the three Read On Communities receiving this grant to expand Experience Corps services, the program is also being successfully implemented in the City of Phoenix/Read On Phoenix.