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Giving the gift of literacy

By Margie M. Palmer

Helping children open their minds to the wonders of imagination and knowledge found in books is one of the greatest gifts older generations can pass on to the next. Unfortunately, not every child has access to the help they need to learn reading. But a local program seeks to even the playing field of literacy.

The San Diego branch of Oasis Lifelong Adventure is seeking senior volunteers to become part of their intergenerational tutoring program.

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The Oasis intergenerational tutoring program pairs seniors with young students struggling with their reading. (Courtesy Oasis San Diego)

The program pairs adults who have a passion for reading with children grades K-4, aiming to enhance each child’s reading and writing skills.

Oasis Regional Tutoring Coordinator John Dunnicliff notes that while the program currently has more than 400 volunteers throughout the county, they are always looking to expand that number.

“The reason we have so many volunteers is because it’s fun to sit and read a book with a child,” Dunnicliff said. “I’ve been volunteering for five years and as you know, [this generation] is a generation that read books until color television came along. We like to read and many of us get great pleasure in reading to these kids because we can pass on our love of reading to the child.”

Each session lasts between 30 and 60 minutes and they are typically done in the classroom of a participating school, he continued, adding that in some cases, the sessions are held in the school library or outdoors.

Volunteers do not need to have prior educational or teaching experience, but they will need to undergo a background check. Volunteer trainings for central San Diego residents take place every three months at the Oasis Headquarters at Grossmont Center in La Mesa.

“It’s a six-hour training that is done on two consecutive mornings between the hours of 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and we give the volunteers books and crossword puzzles, games and word games that they can use to keep the student’s interest and have fun,” Dunnicliff said. “The tutoring curriculum is designed by teachers and it confirms to the California standards and what we’re doing with each child is what the teachers are doing with the 28 kids in each class. They are asking questions and doing vocabulary with the students, but we are doing it one on one.”

Janie Wardlow is among those who volunteers with students at Adams Elementary School. Wardlow, a retired school principal, believes one of the main strengths of the program is having an adult work with a child and having the child feel good about themselves.

“This program is valuable because teachers have so many responsibilities they rarely have time to spend one on one with a student,” she said.

“One of the things I think is interesting, that’s done with all of the kids the program has, is the ‘All About Me’ book. It asks them what their interests are, who the members of their family are, what they like to read and what their hobbies are. You go through that the first couple of times you meet with them and you learn a lot about who they are. Children are pretty open.”

As the sessions progress, volunteers work with the students by reading a selected book to them, or reading a book they select together.

“Sometimes you’ll have the student read to you or retell you the story you just read,” Wardlow added, noting the latter is a great tool to help develop a child’s vocabulary.

Her experience thus far, she said, has been gratifying.

“I’m a recent grandmother and it’s been fascinating watching that dynamic and seeing the big difference in the dynamic between a parent and a child and a grandparent and a child. I think that children feel very comfortable being with an adult who has life experience and who understand how they think and operate,” she said. “The intergenerational piece between a grandparent and a child is a lovely relationship in our society, and this program brings that element into Oasis. It’s surrogate grandparenting. In today’s society, children don’t always have easy access to their grandparents and vice versa, and I think this program is a nice complimentary relationship.”

Those wishing to learn more about becoming an Oasis Tutoring volunteer or to learn more about the program can contact John Dunnicliff at 914-318-9699 or visit

— Margie M. Palmer can be reached at

Source: La Mesa Currier

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