Thomas Minter is a retired engineer from Boeing Air.  Tom was interested in volunteering in the community near his home and wanted to do something with reading. “When I was in school, I was not the Eagle reader, I was probably the Slug reader.  I had people who helped me out and I appreciated that. Reading is something you use your entire life.  I wanted to help kids in whatever way I could, and I know that if you can read, you can learn.”  Tom decided to support early literacy.

Tom volunteers in a 1st grade classroom at Phantom Lake Elementary for a couple of hours every week.  He works with multiple small groups of children on reading, spelling, and understanding and comprehending sentences.  While Tom is working with his small groups, part of the class is doing independent work at their desks, while another group is working directly with the teacher.  “I give my group the option of where they want to sit – back of the class or out in the hallway.  They seem to like sitting outside the classroom best, where there are more encounters/distractions with children from other classes, which can be a challenge.  I let them pick, but with the caveat that if there are too many distractions, then we have to move back into the classroom.  I give them two passes, and then it’s back into the classroom.  So far it’s been working.”

When asked what it is like to work with these little people in these little groups, Tom says “I love it”.  Every group (usually groups of 2) is different.  “Each student has an area they like and are comfortable with.  One student likes to draw, so I have to work at getting him to come back to the worksheet they need to be working on.  Fortunately, both students aren’t usually off track at the same time, so I can usually get one student engaged and working on the worksheet and sometimes that draws the other student in, but not always.  Then I have to figure out how to get that student engaged again.”  Tom says working with kids is not structured like the engineering office.  You have to be fluid and be able to figure out on that particular day how to engage them.  No two days are alike.

The teacher Tom works with, Chelle Swim, says that “students gain confidence when they have small group, individualized instruction.”  Tom thinks building relationships with the students is key.  “The first week or two is the honeymoon period, but after that they start testing you.”  Tom would go home thinking he needed to do something different.  “I decided to spend a little time getting to know each child – What do you like to do?  What do you do for fun?  Got any hobbies?  Got any pets?  –  I don’t just start asking 20 questions, I’ll insert these into the work we do to develop and build a relationship with the students. I can definitely say that my relationship with the kids has grown and I think they enjoy their time with me.  I think some of these kids are just looking for more 1 on 1 adult time.  The 1 on 1 attention seems to allow them to focus a bit more.  It’s something of a reward for them.”

Tom thinks the kids have gotten to know him better as well and have definitely become more comfortable with him.  “They’re curious and ask funny questions like, Are you a 100 yet?  I’m starting to write them down, they’re too funny to let them go.”

Recently when Tom visited the class, the schedule had changed for that day and they were working on math and science instead.  Being an engineer Tom felt right at home and jumped right in.  For Tom it gave him a whole new perspective on his reading students.  “It was interesting to see that some of the kids who might not be the strong readers, were good at math.  Some of the kids were thinking of things I would not have thought of.  As an adult you get pretty structured with your thinking.  These kids can still think way outside the box.”

When asked what he would tell other people considering volunteering with students, Tom said this – “Go in with an open mind.  Pick something you are interested in, but stay open to other possibilities once you see what the needs are.  The kids want to learn and have great potential.  They may appear to be hard to control at first – like getting them out from under the table – but with consistent adult attention, they will engage and work with you.”

Why is early reading so important?  Research shows that 75% of students who struggle with reading in third grade, never catch up, and they are four times as likely to drop out of high school.  Third grade is a pivotal year for reading.  By fourth grade the curriculum for science, math and social studies require more reading grounded in academic vocabulary.(1)  Our students must be prepared and reading by 3rd grade.  Proficiency in reading by the end of third grade enables students to shift from learning to read to reading to learn.  Ensuring students meet this critical milestone keeps them on the path to high school graduation and career success.  By reaching children early on, we go a long way toward closing the achievement gap, reducing dropout rates, and breaking the cycle of poverty. (2)

Do you love to read?  Do you want to share your passion for reading with a young student?    Join the VIBES Mentor Tutor Program and support Bellevue School District’s Elementary Reading Initiative to make every child a reader. Volunteer at an elementary school near you and work with young students in grades K-2 to make sure all our students are proficient readers by 3rd grade.

The VIBES Mentor Tutor Program recruits, screens and trains community volunteers to work in BSD schools supporting students and classrooms.  Volunteers work during the school day, on school campus, under staff supervision.  VIBES asks all community volunteers to commit to at least one hour per week for the duration of the school year.  Want to do more than an hour a week?  GREAT!

For more details see our website: