Al Berkowitz: "Tutoring is about relationships"


Al Berkowitz was actively seeking volunteer work to keep busy when he came across the opportunity to serve as an OASIS tutor. A chemical engineering background and a career as a business owner might not seem on the surface like a good background for tutoring, but Al didn’t let that stop him.

“I wanted to be of service for someone, and I thought if I could be helpful to children and get them to make a little progress, then it would be worth it,” Al says. “Besides, this isn’t a teaching program. It’s really a program for establishing a relationship with a student and helping him get some comfort in learning.”

As it turns out, this 83-year-old was able to contribute in a big way to a couple of students at Rock Springs Elementary School in Escondido, CA.

Al started tutoring during the 2012-2013 school year and was able to help a 4th grade boy improve his reading by two grade levels, making it possible or him to enter 5th grade at the same reading level as most of his peers.

“He just needed someone to spend some time with him and help him build his confidence in reading,” Al says.

Al is tutoring another student for the 2013-2014 school year, and he’s enjoying his time with the boy a great deal. He says OASIS gave him all the training he needed to get started, and now he’s developed some of his own tricks to aid in learning, as well.

To bridge what could be a generation gap between himself and his young charges, Al tries to make things informal. He wears a name tag that says, “Mr. Al” and he’s prone to breaking up the tutoring sessions with a game or two.

“I do what I can to break the ice and make them realize I’m not a teacher, but I’m more like a friend who wants to help them,” he says.

Al says he feels like he’s contributing something important and he would encourage others who have an hour a week to give to consider becoming an OASIS tutor.

“You will get more satisfaction and pleasure out of doing it than the kids will,” he says.