Reading volunteers dwindle

Cynthia Tubbs of Clovis volunteersfor a student-reading program at James Bickley Elementary called HOSTS. Tubbs said she loves working with children. CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

When the morning session is done, little Sapphire Romero — clumps of hair astray from her pony tail — hugs her mentor.

“Thank you,” the elementary student tells her.

Such one-on-one interaction lies at the heart of this program — HOSTS, an acronym for Help One Student To Succeed. The national program pairs students who need help learning how to read with volunteer mentors.

Throughout the week, adults from the community spend at least 30 minutes with students at James Bickley Elementary. Seated in miniature red chairs, the mentors read them books, practice phonetics with them and help them with their writing skills.

One-on-one interaction can be sparse in a typical classroom setting, but many students are starved for it, according to a HOSTS pamphlet. Research shows that children learn faster and become more self-reliant when they receive one-on-one instruction, according to the pamphlet.

“It helps their self-esteem when one person can sit with them for 30 minutes and just pay attention to them,” said Connie Williams, coordinator of HOSTS at James Bickley.

In Clovis Schools, however, the HOSTS program has shrunk since it was implemented in the mid-1990s.

In the past, the program was offered at Clovis High School and Cameo, James Bickley and La Casita elementary schools, according to school officials. Today, only James Bickley continues to offer HOSTS, and only in grades one through three.

A myriad of reasons contributed to the HOSTS program being dropped at other campuses, including shuffling of school funding and staff changes, Clovis Municipal Schools Community Relations Director David Briseno said.

At James Bickley, a shortage of volunteers is hampering HOSTS, Williams said.
“We have difficulty getting mentors,” Williams said.

Eight James Bickley students have idled on a waiting list since September, hoping for a mentor so they can enter the HOSTS program.

To restore HOSTS, about 70 additional volunteers would be needed, Williams said. The program at James Bickley, funded federally, runs on 50 volunteers. Many are retired senior citizens and high school students seeking credit for volunteer work.

Opal Head, 72, has been a HOSTS volunteer for 11 years. The great-grandmother spends two hours Monday through Friday mentoring James Bickley students, who are referred to the HOSTS program by their teachers.

The majority of first-graders Head helps cannot read, she said.

“If you can’t read, you can’t do anything else,” Head said.

Her cane resting across her knee, Head lauded one-on-one philosophy of HOSTS.
She has seen it work, over and over again, she said. Students she has mentored in the past, she said, approach her regularly while she is running errands in town and thank her for her help.

“It is very rewarding,” she said.

“My teachers,” James Bickley Principal Steve Baldock said, “would like to have three classrooms for HOSTS, if they could.”