Senior-student mentoring can be a win-win

Effectively pairing senior volunteers with students is one of the big win-win opportunities in virtually every community in the country, says U.S. News and World Report. There is great need in the schools, and it’s gotten more acute during the recession. Enter a growing stream of retired folks who’ve enjoyed stable and successful careers, are loaded with skills and experience, and are eager to give back to their local communities. But in talking with one of the country’s most successful senior tutoring and mentoring programs — Experience Corps — it’s clear that a lot of work needs to go into successful partnerships. Experience Corps doesn’t claim its approach is the only or even best way to engage seniors with kids. But it does claim that it works, and has the research to prove it. The Washington-based nonprofit has programs in 22 cities, with a total of about 2,000 senior volunteers and 20,000 students. The program works with younger students — kindergarten through third grade — and focuses its efforts on at-risk children in lower-income areas. In the cities with Experience Corps programs, that support doesn’t come cheap, averaging between $1,000 and $2,000 a year per student. More than half of the money flows right back out to participating volunteers, and finding the right volunteers, training them, and successfully matching them with students also requires staff and money. But the benefit of this approach is reflected in volunteers who stay committed to the program and their students, and go well beyond the minimums in providing support. Research has shown that a student needs to have at least 35 one-on-one sessions a year with a volunteer to make sustained progress in reading and verbal skills…

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