Teach a child to read, without ever leaving the office.
All you need is a computer, a phone and 30 minutes a week.

43 percent of third graders are not reading at grade level. According to The Literacy Coalition, a workgroup brought together by Broward’s Children’s Services Council, from that pool of 43% of students struggling to read at third grade, 74% are likely to drop out of high school before earning a high school diploma. 

With today’s hectic schedules and the digital age of technology sky-rocketing at warped speed,  it might be easy to overlook the many important functions of good old-fashioned reading – like  mental stimulation, knowledge, memory improvement, vocabulary expansion, improved focus and concentration, stronger analytical thinking skills, better writing skills – and, according to Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr, aside from all that, this is a business issue.

“If young people can’t read well,” Furr stated, “they won’t be able to develop the skills necessary for success in the workforce. We need thousands of tutors who can help these children.” Furr is actively championing a tutoring program known as TutorMate that enables more adults to spend 30 minutes to an hour a week tutoring first grade students on reading.

The program was started by Seth Weinberger, founder of Innovations for Learning (IFL) – a national education nonprofit.  Weinberger worked for a large law firm that participated in a face-to-face tutoring program, but only a few lawyers had the time to take part.  He realized that if there was a more time-effective way to volunteer, far more office workers would give back to their community. With some thought and ingenuity, TutorMate was born.

“This program was presented to the Literacy Coalition and everyone recognized it as a game changer,”  said Furr. “It allows people to teach a child to read without ever having to leave their desk.”  

Here’s how it works: The online program matches a first grade student with a volunteer for a 30 minute tutoring session once a week throughout the school year. Volunteers are required to complete a one hour training course and tutors are recruited from 125 major corporate partners of IFL. These tutors are paired with first grade students in low-income schools and they can then tutor from their home or any place where there is internet access.

During each session, the tutor and students read stories at the student’s instructional reading level, and play word games associated with the words the student is working on in the classroom. At the end of the school year, the tutor and student meet for the first time during an emotional “graduation” party.  Nearly 3,000 tutors participated in the TutorMate program nationally during the 2014-15 school year.

Furr is encouraging corporations and organizations to ask their personnel to participate in TutorMate and create teams of tutors who would tutor the children online. He also reaches out to parents. “We know that many of us have very hectic schedules,” said Furr, “ but a little bit goes a long way. As a parent, you can help by reading with your child every day. Just 15 minutes of reading per day is known to make a significant difference in a young child’s ability to read.”

“Whether you are a parent or not,” added Furr, “you have an important role to play in creating a culture of reading in Broward County. If you are able to tutor a student face-to-face, I encourage you to do so. If your schedule does not allow for that to happen, you can volunteer to tutor a student from the office, at home, or wherever there is Internet access. Look around at your workplace. Is there an opportunity to bring together a team of 10 people who can devote just 30 minutes per week to reading with a child at a time and location convenient for each individual on that team? Think about it. You can help.”

Broward County encourages anyone who can read, be consistent with the ability to commit to weekly sessions for the duration of the school year, and be a supportive nurturing adult with the ability to listen and assist students in learning to read, to participate.

Anyone interested in tutoring can contact Kim Whitten, National Director of Teacher Support, and Executive Director of Florida at (813) 404-8319.  Or e-mail kim@innovationsforlearning.org. Additional information is also available at www.innovationsforlearning.org