Schools of Hope in our classrooms

Since the winter of 2012, classrooms around Sonoma have been fortunate to have volunteers helping read with – and to – our emerging readers twice a week thanks to the Schools of Hope program. I teach in a multi-age grade 2/3 classroom at Dunbar Elementary School and I have seen firsthand what a wonderful addition the program is to our school.

Schools of Hope is sponsored by the United Way in partnership with the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. The program is in its second year targeting first- and second-grade students who fall below benchmark for their grade. A student who is not at least moderately successful in reading by the third grade is less likely to graduate from high school. Less than half of Sonoma Valley third-grade students are currently reading at or above grade level.

Having volunteers come to read with students has not only increased our students’ interest in reading and learning as well as their abilities, but it has opened our school to welcoming community members to our “school family,” much like the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance program does. Our volunteer tutors become important members of our students’ lives; an additional adult in their lives who care for them. Students eagerly await their time with their tutor and that is matched by the volunteers who so look forward to their time with the students. I am so grateful for this program and the connection to our community that it has added to school as well as the love for reading that it’s building in our students.

Sallie Moore, who runs the Teacher Support Network of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, helps find community volunteers for the program. She often checks in with volunteers by phone, email or in person while they are on campus and she says that each is smiling and thrilled to be a part of this program. Schools of Hope volunteers range from the busy professional who has no children and takes time from work to meet with a student for just half an hour a week, to retired persons who once had children attend our school and miss being with “little ones.”

Schools of Hope volunteers are in place at all five elementary school campuses in Sonoma.

Alan Hernandez-Lopez, a bilingual volunteer at Flowery School, does a great job of describing why he loves tutoring for Schools of Hope. “Friends, property, money, these are all things that can be lost and regained. The one thing you cannot get back is time. The time you have to dedicate to the passions in your life. For me, education is that passion, one that I will give my time and skills to because I believe in the value of education and how it can better our society. This is why I volunteer as a bilingual tutor at Flowery Elementary. My students are more excited to read and I can see a positive change in their attitude toward education during these past few months. Joining the program was easy and to see the difference I make on a weekly basis in my students’ lives makes it worth my time.”

I know that we are still really short on tutors and at each of the five schools we have more than 20 kids waiting to be matched with a tutor.

All that is asked is 30 minutes a week. Please give some thought to stepping forward to help. If you are interested, please contact Sallie Moore at sallie@sveducationfoundation.org.

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Renea Magnani has been teaching at Dunbar Elementary School since 2011. Her two daughters attend Dunbar and her husband went to school at Dunbar when he was young, too. Magnani is the site coordinator for the Schools of Hope program offered through the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation and the United Way of Wine Country.