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First Graders Meet Tutors Who Helped Them Learn To Read Using Online Tool

Volunteers from Timberland Give 80 Students New Boots

BOSTON — Tuesday, June 5, 2018 — Today, nearly 40 volunteer tutors from JPMorgan Chase, Timberland and UPS met, for the first time, the Boston Public Schools (BPS) students whom they have been helping for the past four months learn to read through weekly online sessions as part of a BPS partnership with TutorMate. The program uses Skype to connect first-grade students with adult coaches who often work in distant locations.

“We are truly grateful for the companies and their employees who have donated their valuable time tutoring our children and helping them grow as young learners,” said BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang. “The online technology TutorMate uses has allowed us to match first-graders with caring adults who otherwise might never have had the chance to help a BPS student become a better reader, due to geographical challenges or the demands of busy workdays.”
Tutor Mate Photo 1
“Serving from the workplace is especially attractive for many of our volunteers since they can easily tutor each week from their desks or from a conference room,” added Karen Henry, the Boston program ambassador for TutorMate, which was developed by the national nonprofit organization, Innovations for Learning.
Thirty-nine first graders from the David A. Ellis Elementary School in Roxbury — one of six BPS elementary schools, with a combined 150 first-grade students, that partnered with TutorMate this year — got a chance today to meet their adult tutors from JPMorgan Chase, Timberland and UPS. The tutors, who brought snacks, books and other gifts for the first-graders, participated in end-of-the-school-year celebrations in the students’ classrooms.
As an added bonus, Timberland, the Stratham, N.H.-based footwear and apparel maker, surprised all 80 first graders in the school with a pair of classic Timberland boots, regardless of whether the students were tutored or not. For the past four months, 10 employees from Timberland each spent 30 minutes per week helping tutor Ellis first-grade students.
“TutorMate is an innovative and highly rewarding way for our employees to use their ‘Path of Service’ hours from the convenience of their desk. We spent 30 minutes each week working on reading and comprehension skills with 10 first-grade students,” said Jill Holt, Timberland’s community engagement coordinator, referring to the company’s program that offers employees up to 40 hours per year to do volunteer work. “It was exciting to see their reading and vocabulary skills improve each week through reading aloud and online word games. Perhaps the best part was getting to know these great little kids as they shared their favorite hobbies, colors, pets and more with us.”
Ellis Principal Cynthia Jacobs-Tolbert said using the online tutoring program appealed to her first-grade teachers because they recognized that technology is a great way to capture kids’ attention and begin to instill in them a love of reading.
“Engaging the students through Skype got them immediately interested. From there, they really enjoyed reading stories on the bright blue laptops and playing word games like Mystery Word and Tic Tac Toe with their tutors. I’ve been in the classroom when the TutorMate laptop phone rings, and have seen the excitement of the students as they run to answer it to see whose turn it is to read with their tutor,” Jacobs-Tolbert said. “We could not have done this, however, without the tutors generously donating their time.”
Emi Okuda, a first-grade teacher at the Ellis whose students were tutored by Timberland volunteers, said the program had an intangible impact that went beyond helping her students become stronger readers. “The students’ relationship with the tutors inspired them to read more. It’s great having another adult in their lives motivating them to practice reading,” she said. 
Margaret Dunlap, director of marketing for UPS’s Northeast District and an online tutor of an Ellis student, said the program allowed UPS employees in Springfield and Worcester, Mass., as well as Hartford, Conn., the opportunity to tutor a Boston student.
Tutor Mate Photo 2
“The TutorMate program was a rewarding and uplifting experience. The students were full of energy and excited to read. It was incredible to see how my student’s reading level improved over the course of the program, and I hope that a part of that is because of our weekly tutoring sessions,” Dunlap said. “Myself and the other Boston UPS Tutors are excited that we volunteered for such an impactful program and worked with such amazing students.”
JPMorgan Chase had 18 employees from their Boston offices volunteer to tutor the Ellis students through TutorMate.  
“It is more important than ever to help young people develop the skills they need to compete for jobs in today’s economy,” said Rick MacDonald, New England region manager at JPMorgan Chase. “That’s why, at JPMorgan Chase, we are committed to giving back in the communities where we live and work by giving our employees the opportunity to mentor and coach students in Boston and around the U.S.”
According to TutorMate, a recent study found that participating students who receive 16 or more tutoring sessions will, on average, complete the year with a full reading level gain above their peers. Additionally, research has shown that if a child is a poor reader at the end of first grade, there is an 88% chance that the same child will be a poor reader at the end of fourth grade.
“Instead of waiting to address literacy issues in the third or fourth grade, the TutorMate program aims to help students read at grade level by the end of first grade, setting students up for reading enthusiasm and scholastic success early on,” said Kim Whitten, national director of district partnerships for TutorMate.