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Folks 50 and older can help pupils improve their reading skills and get a better start in life

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON  - Peggy Armstrong, a volunteer tutor with AARP Experience Corps, reads with two students at Greshams Hall Elementary School.Peggy Armstrong, a 71 year-old retired fabric buyer, isn't spending her golden years parked in front of the television. For the past decade, she's spent about 10 hours per week at Hall Elementary School helping kids improve their reading skills.

"It's satisfying. It's enlightening," Armstrong says.

It's an often-cited axiom in education that if children aren't reading well by third grade, it will be difficult for them to catch up, be successful in school and graduate.

Enter the AARP Foundation Experience Corps.

Experience Corps brings older volunteers into schools to help students in kindergarten through third grade who need a little more time and support in learning to read.

The volunteers are a welcome help because some classrooms are overcrowded and teachers can't provide as much individual help to each student as they'd like.

"There's a great need for it," says Armstrong, "the schools need so much."

Hall Principal Heidi Lasher is a fan.

"They train them in a curriculum. It has been very beneficial for the kids," Lasher says.

Lasher says the benefits to students go well beyond academic improvement.

"Relationships are key in education. They (the volunteers) are part of our 'Hall together' community," she says.

The teachers at Hall chose three or four students that could use a little extra help reading, and Armstrong and the other volunteers work with those children one-on-one.

Armstrong works a full school day on Mondays and Thursdays but is flexible about her duties.

"It depends on what the teacher needs," she says.

Although Experience Corp's main focus is reading and writing, Armstrong will help the kids with math if they could use a boost there.

"You can see their growth, having that one-on-one time with them," she says.

Armstrong recalls one boy who was struggling in class because of a language barrier. He was sick and out of school for two weeks and when he came back, he was so far behind, "he was in tears."

She calmly worked with him, "and that one-on-one brought him back up to speed," Armstrong says. "They improve and then they don't get so frustrated."

Getting results

Studies show that AARP Foundation Experience Corps works. After just one year, some students who work with Experience Corps volunteer tutors achieve as much as 60% improvement in critical literacy skills compared to their peers.

"We inspire and empower adults age 50 and older to serve in their community and disrupt the cycle of poverty by making a lasting difference in the lives of America's most vulnerable children," AARP says of the Experience Corps.

The tutoring also is a great fit for the volunteers.

Most of the Corps members are retired, and the regular tutoring gig gives them a sense of purpose and knowledge they are contributing something important to the community after they've left regular employment.

Armstrong says she enjoys the Experience Corps training sessions. A recent workshop led by storyteller Paul Iarrobino was a special favorite.

Volunteers must be 50 or older and have at least a high school diploma or GED. They must pass a criminal background check and a basic literacy screening, attend 25 hours of annual training and be able to commit to from five to 15 hours a week during the school year.

Volunteers who work at least 10 hours per week get a small stipend.

In the Portland area, 1,617 students from 88 classrooms are being tutored by 53 volunteers. Nationwide the Corps has nearly 2,000 trained volunteers helping more than 30,000 students in 20 cities.

In the Portland area, the AARP Experience Corps program launched in 1995 and is run by the nonprofit Metropolitan Family Service.

Armstrong considers the Experience Corps one of those rare win-win situations in life. She loves her time with the kids and the fact that she is making a big difference and the children get help in improving their academic lives.

With the help she gives twice a week, "you know their road is going to be so much easier," she says.

Are you interested?

AARP Foundation Experience Corps is looking for adults 50 years and older interested in tutoring students who are struggling to read in kindergarten through third grade.

Volunteers must be 50 or older and have at least a high school diploma or GED, pass a criminal background check and a basic literacy screening. They will attend 25 hours of annual training and be able to commit to five to 15 hours a week during the school year.

If you want to volunteer or find out more, visit the web site: or contact Maruska Lynch, Metropolitan Family Service, 503-232-0007, Ext. 226 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If you can't volunteer, you can donate to AARP Foundation Experience Corps to help fund the program.

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