It all starts with Literacy.

Trolling for reading tutors in corporate America


Dan Weisberg holds forth to attorneys and staff at DLA Piper in Miami.

Office workers: Can you give a half an hour of your time once a week to make a tremendous change in a child’s life?

That’s the pitch Dan Weisberg has been making in Washington, D.C., and Miami, asking professionals from major companies to volunteer for IFL’s TutorMate® program. IFL is looking for hundreds of people to commit to a weekly appointment, using a phone and computer screen, with a young student struggling to learn to read.

Weisberg, IFL’s national director of corporate alliances, conducted a meeting for about 24 people on Friday at the National Geographic Society in Washington.

He was aided by top staffers from the D.C. Public Schools, including Josephine Bias Robinson, who heads the district’s Office of Family and Public Engagement. The district is hoping to line up 500 tutors for this school year.

Robinson said the district has tried out a lot of programs — but IFL’s, which combines computer technology and one-and-one tutoring to raise reading skills in first-graders, stands out. She called it a “literacy solution in a box.”

The next day she wrote in an email that the district’s chancellor, Kaya Henderson, considers the program to be the “gold standard.”

On Tuesday, Weisberg took his pitch to two major law firms in downtown Miami: Greenberg Taurig LLP and DLA Piper.

Nikolai Vitti, Miami Dade Public Schools

At Greenberg, he got help from Nikolai Vitti, the Miami Dade Public Schools’ chief academic officer, who said he’d been bowled over by the good sense of the tutoring program.

“It’s usually hard to get people to volunteer in the schools because of their schedules and the Miami traffic,” Vitti said. “And when I saw this program, I thought it was a terrific way to go. It’s practical and efficient.”

The Miami Dade schools hope to be using IFL tutors in 30 classrooms in nine schools this year. In each classroom, teachers will select 10 students, those needing the extra help,  for tutoring — 300 students needing tutors in all.

Why 10 students per class? It’s easy for a teacher to single out two students per day for a 30-minute session, over a five-day week, without disturbing the rest of classroom instruction.

Weisberg’s plan is recruit at least 20 workers per company, but 10 will do in a pinch.  At most of the participating firms, management has agreed to let workers use company time to tutor.

“If the 10 tutors come from the same organization, so much the better,” Weisberg says. “The organization thus ‘adopts’ the classroom and feels like they have a shared investment in that room’s success.  Also, they can visit the room together at the end of the school year for a ‘Meet and Greet’ celebration with the kids.  This is a great team-building, morale-boosting event for employees.”

Weisberg tells his audiences, “We don’t recruit high school students, we don’t recruit retirees. This is a program for people who are working and who want to give something back to the community.” It’s specifically designed for people who don’t have a lot of time in the hours of a school day, yet want to do volunteer work.

Besides the drive for recruits in D.C. and Miami, IFL hopes to line up 750 tutors in Chicago and 350 in Seattle for this school year. The organization is looking for smaller numbers of tutors in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and Denver.

Here’s a video that shows TutorMate in action.

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