CASA GANDE — About 33 volunteer tutors have signed on to assist with a new literacy effort that aims to help children in Casa Grande boost their reading skills.

Through the new AARP Experience Corps Pinal-Casa Grande literacy program, retirees log in — from their home computer — to virtual one-on-one reading skill-building sessions with a student in need of extra attention.

About 43 children in the first, second and third grades who test below reading benchmarks in Saguaro, Cottonwood and Evergreen elementary schools are helped through the program, which uses AARP’s proven literacy intervention program with measurable benefits for students and positive mental and physical health benefits for volunteers, said Program Manager Caryl Chase.

The tutors have spent the last month in a special training program conducted by AARP and its consultants, she said.

“They have also attended learning platform training,” Chase said. “The Achieve Pinal-Casa Grande program is using the Zoom platform and the tutors have spent anywhere from 15 to 25 hours learning about their computers and how to navigate this platform.”

During the month of October the program is also hoping to hand out 35 to 45 book bag kits though special drive-thru events.

Each book bag includes bookmarks, pencils, ear buds, coloring pages and assorted snacks along with a series of grade level books each students will use with their tutor. The book bag items were donated by various tutors, community businesses and sponsors.

AARP Experience Corps Pinal-Casa Grande is a project of Achieve Pinal and its parent organization, Pinal Alliance for Economic Growth. The literacy program is offered in partnership with the city of Casa Grande and the Casa Grande Elementary School District.

About three-fourths of Arizona’s third graders do not read proficiently, according to the program’s volunteer recruitment website. Children who don’t read at grade level by fourth grade are four times more likely not to graduate from high school, which can contribute to a cycle of poverty, according to the program website.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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