Books bind tutors and students

— Courtesy of the Bennion Center Courtney Tanner
(Photo Courtesy of the Bennion Center)

(Photo Courtesy of the Bennion Center)

It may not be “Reading Rainbow,” but the U’s America Reads program tutors elementary students in math and reading just the same.

America Reads is a federally funded program hosted by the Bennion Center that focuses tutoring on Title One schools. It began as a government challenge aimed at insuring that elementary age students were able to “read well and independently” by the end of the third grade.

The U was one of the higher education institutions in Salt Lake City who took the challenge.

Kristie Sleight, the U’s America Reads coordinator, calls the program a “rewarding work-study opportunity.”

The U focuses on eight different sites, including the nearby Bennion Elementary and Park View Elementary. These schools are all in low-income areas with a diversity of backgrounds. Mountain View Elementary boasts an array of 30 languages spoken in the school alone.

The tutors often work at Glendale Community Learning Center and Neighborhood House as well.

Former tutor and now-site leader Harlee Smith, a junior in psychology, saw firsthand the effect her tutoring had on students.

“It’s such a great feeling to see their faces light up when they get the concept you’ve been working on for weeks,” Smith said.

Sleight said experiences like Smith’s lead to high retention rate for tutors in the program.

“I think students see how much of an impact they are making and love that feeling,” she said.

The America Reads program at the U is for work-study students only because it is federally funded. Students applying for a tutor position must be eligible and have the funds available. Sleight said there are other opportunities to volunteer at the Bennion Center for those who do not have work-study.

Smith said she’s lucky. She feels the America Reads program provides an opportunity for U students to engage their community through education, while providing a positive service to the students they tutor. For her, more than anything, the mentorship potential and the friendships forged go on much further than the tutoring session.

“I would recommend America Reads to anyone who wants their day to be brightened a whole lot every time they come to work,” she said.