Erle Kelly gives kids a jump-start in school

Wednesdays are the highlight of Erle Kelly's week. That's when he meets with Hector, a first-grader in Long Beach California, to help him with reading and writing. A former marketing director for Pacificare, Kelly is in his second year with the OASIS Intergenerational Tutoring program, which trains and pairs adults with children in the primary grades to build reading skills and confidence needed for success in school.

"I really enjoy him," Kelly says of his young friend. "He is very expressive and likes to read." Coming from a Spanish-speaking home, Hector was behind in school. "He was eager to learn but needed a jump-start."

Kelly diligently sought out books and activities that would capture his student's interest and draw him out of his shell.

"Hector loves Thomas the Tank Engine and Curious George. And tornadoes! One day he came in talking about tornadoes so I found a book about it. Now he knows what a meteorologist is and what to do in case of a tornado."

By the end of their first year together, the relationship was so strong and Hector was making such progress that Kelly and the school agreed he should continue working with him. Unfortunately the student moved during the school break. Undaunted, Kelly tracked down Hector at Lincoln Elementary, his new school, and got permission to continue tutoring him there even though Lincoln did not offer the OASIS tutoring program yet.

Kelly credits the OASIS training program with preparing him to work effectively with both Hector and his new student this year, Larry. "The training helped me understand how important it is for children to learn the basics at this age, especially reading. The program is very structured. We use the 'Talk together -- Read together -- Write together' plan each time. Sometimes I do the writing but most of the time he writes. He is on his fourth story journal now. And he loves games. We play Word Bingo and a rhyming word game. These activities all came right out of the OASIS manual."

Kelly has seen big changes in Hector's language development. "Before he would conjugate words like they do in Spanish. Now when we talk I hear sentences in correct English structure," he explains. And there are more signs of success. "He is a happy little kid, and he has the biggest smile!"

OASIS tutoring coordinator Debra Mead says Kelly has been a mentor to other tutors. "Erle is a quiet leader," she says. "I've noticed that other tutors listen to him share ideas for working with the students in our monthly support meetings. He has a lot to offer."

Kelly has become good friends with other tutors, meeting for coffee regularly on Wednesday after tutoring sessions. "They are the kind of people you gravitate towards," Kelly says.

"This has been very satisfying. I can't think of a better way to spend my time," Kelly says.