The lucky children who meet with OASIS tutors Aaron and Jackie Epstein love the activities they do with secrets, codes and mystery. But there is no mystery about the success that the Epsteins have in helping their students learn to read.
"My students really need that one-to-one attention each week," says Jackie, a retired teacher. "There is always a child who I can help."
Every Thursday morning the Epsteins go to Janney Elementary School in the Washington DC Public Schools where they each work with two children in the second grade.
The two explored codes with their students through a variety of activities over a three-week period. They read about the history of codes, wrote secret notes in code, experimented with disappearing ink and learned about Braille and sign language. And as they had fun learning new ways to communicate, the children were building reading and writing skills.
"My student learned finger spelling so she could talk with her grandmother without her mother knowing what they were saying, just for fun," Jackie says. "Kids love secrecy," Aaron adds.
"There is a mystery in working with each child," Aaron says. "You have to learn about each other and understand what their problems are." He recalls the day one student did not want to read; he just wanted to go out and play basketball. So out they went. "Out on the basketball court I learned more about him than I ever had before," Aaron says. "He was suffering, and was very concerned that he was short. I gave him a lesson in genetics, and told him that with tall parents there was a good chance he would grow to be tall."
The Epsteins offer workshops for other OASIS tutors in Montgomery County, Maryland, to share their ideas, activities and experiences. In addition to a workshop on codes they have done one on newspapers and just did a third on Superheroes. They read original comic books on Spiderman and use the topic as a jumping off point to a science activity on what real spiders are like. "It's something they are all interested in," says Aaron.
"Aaron and Jackie lead by example," says Kay Meek, tutor coordinator for OASIS in the DC and Montgomery County area. "They come to tutor workshops with thorough, printed plans for a successful lesson. They have inspired friends to become tutors, volunteered to mentor new tutors, and jumpstarted the reorganization of our tutor library."
In their five years as OASIS tutors, and through their leadership with other tutors, Aaron and Jackie Epstein have made a positive impact in the lives of countless students. And as they continue to decipher the interests of each child they work with, they will discover and share new ways to capture their interests and instill a love of reading and learning.
New tutors are always welcome at OASIS. Learn more about volunteering as an OASIS Intergenerational Tutor.
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