Three years ago Hailey S. was having a rough time in second grade. Her mother Kathy remembers how she struggled with reading.
“We were reading together every night, but it was hard for her,” Kathy said. “I was concerned because I knew that if a child is not reading by third grade, it sets them up for more struggles.
Hailey’s teacher felt she would benefit from some extra attention and arranged for her to work with Kathleen Eicher, a volunteer tutor from San Antonio Oasis. Kathleen brought a book to their first meeting and watched for strengths they could build on. Right away she saw how visual Hailey was.
“As we were reading together, Hailey pointed to an illustration and said, ‘This doesn’t make sense,’” Kathleen recalled. “She said ‘This girl looks like a baby when her grandmother puts her to bed, but when she comes down for breakfast she looks like an older child.’”
In their weekly one-on-one meetings, Kathleen noticed how Hailey paid attention to images and colors. She looked for books that were well illustrated to read together and they worked on colorful art projects.
Hailey was also learning how to be a good friend at the time, her mother recalled. One of the books Kathleen brought in appealed to Hailey’s visual sense with a story about friendship.
“It was a beautifully illustrated book called Winston & George,” Kathleen said. “We talked about all the colors and the friendship between the alligator and the alligator bird.“
Kathleen enjoys knitting and found a book called Extra Yarn, about a little girl who lives in a gloomy town. She shows imagination and kindness as she knits bright sweaters for herself, her dog, the townspeople, the trees, even the mailboxes. Kathleen brought in some variegated yarn and taught Hailey how to finger knit a scarf.
The white board in the room where they met was another tool for building language experience and empathy. “Hailey drew circles for faces and added features indicating emotions – happy, surprised, angry and so on. She even included thought bubbles expressing very creatively what each face might be thinking.”
“I was so grateful that another adult was spending that extra time with Hailey every week,” Kathy says. “It gave her a chance to get away from the classroom pressures and just be and have fun with someone who really cared about her. It brought me a lot of comfort.”
“Hailey is doing much better now. She’s come a long way. Her test scores are up and her reading assessment looks good this year. She still finger-knits, has made little scarves for her friends and taught some of them how to knit. Hailey loved working with Miss Kathleen and still has the pictures she sent after the school year ended. I think this volunteer came along at just the right time. My daughter really needed that extra attention.”
Kathleen Eicher has continued to tutor and has worked with six children so far.
“I love figuring out the mystery of these little people, what motivates them and what they need from me. It seems to me that whenever we have befriended a child, increased their enthusiasm for learning or boosted the kindness quotient, we have put something good into the world.”
A program of distinction
Kathleen is one 4,500 volunteers nationwide working with the Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring program, which pairs children in grades K-3 who need support with older adults who have been trained to use a proven approach to literacy that emphasizes reading, talking and writing. The program is one of six intergenerational programs selected to receive the prestigious 2017 Generations United Programs of Distinction award.