Elementary-school students who received yearlong tutoring from Experience Corps members, a national program that includes volunteers over age 55, made significant progress in key reading skills, a new study has found.
The children were not the only ones who benefited. The tutors themselves reported improvements in their physical condition, mental health, and self-esteem, according to the survey.
Those are among the highlights of a study by researchers from Washington University, in St. Louis, that looked at the differences the program made.
The $2-million project was supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies, one of the major financial backers of the nonprofit Experience Corps. The Washington organization has 2,000 tutors helping 23,000 students with their reading skills. The program operates in 23 cities for students at risk of academic failure.
The study followed the progress of more than 800 elementary-school students in three urban school districts – Boston, New York, and Port Arthur, Tex. Two districts were studied in the 2006-7 school year and one was examined last school year.
Researchers found that students with Experience Corps tutors made 64 percent more progress in sounding out words and 62 percent more progress in reading comprehension than students who were not in the program.
The sample of first-, second-, and third-grade students was divided in half, with one group receiving Experience Corps tutoring and another group getting just the help available from the schools.
Students with Experience Corps tutors saw an increase in reading skills equal to the boost they would have received from being in a class with 40-percent fewer children. And more than 97 percent of the teachers rated the Experience Corps program as beneficial to their students.
Benefits for Volunteers
Researchers also studied more than 500 Experience Corps tutors over the course of two years. Compared with adults of similar age, demographics, and volunteer history, Experience Corps members reported improvement during the two years of the study in such functions as physical stamina, flexibility, and mobility.
Other notable findings included:Experience Corps tutors had a significant decrease in depression and physical limitations over a two-year period. After a year with Experience Corps, about two-thirds of the least-active members said they became significantly more physically active and more engaged in social and community events. Eighty-four percent said their circle of friends, a key measure of social well-being for older adults, increased as a result of their involvement in the program.
The results mirror a separate study by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Researchers, released in the March issue of the Journal of Gerontology, that also cited lasting positive effects on the health of people who participated in the 14-year-old Experience Corps program.
Another study by Johns Hopkins researchers last year also found improvements in memory and other functions among Experience Corps tutors.