Streamlined Volunteer Training Experience Readies Tutors for Action

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Streamlined Volunteer Training Experience Readies Tutors for Action

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on August 25, 2021

As we await return guidelines from our partners in education at Anne Arundel County Public Schools, the recent launch of the STAIR-Annapolis Volunteer Dashboard is helping to ensure that our valued volunteers are ready to go as soon as our plans for in-person programming are finalized.

We've revolutionized training and pre-session administrative tasks for volunteers, meaning less paperwork and fewer processing delays. Volunteers have 24/7 access to pre-recorded training videos and slides, direct links to AACPS-required security checks and verification, a curated library of resources to help improve tutoring sessions, and so much more. This means our volunteers don't have to wait to Start The Adventure In Reading with STAIR! We've provided everything they need to learn about our organization, our curriculum, our policies, and how building a trusting, caring relationship with a second grader in need of reading support can make a lifelong difference for both tutor and child.

So many STAIR-Annapolis volunteers have already taken advantage of the offerings on the Volunteer Dashboard and we anticipate even more engagement as we draw closer to the beginning of the school year and our inevitable return to in-person programming.

Tell us: Have you explored the Volunteer Dashboard yet? Which resources have you found most helpful?

Join the conversation by leaving your comments on this post or by visiting us on Facebook!

The New Volunteer Dashboard is Here!

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The New Volunteer Dashboard is Here!

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on July 28, 2021

It's no secret that volunteering with STAIR-Annapolis is an incredible experience. We're so thankful for our volunteers and are always looking for ways to offer support and encouragement as they work toward building relationships and improving the lives of young readers in our community.

To that end, we're pleased to introduce a new way to manage the processes and paperwork necessary to becoming a STAIR-Annapolis tutor: The Volunteer Dashboard!

The Volunteer Dashboard has been designed as a one-stop spot for everything new and returning volunteers need to stay on track and up-to-speed with our organization.

Let's take a look!



The Volunteer Checklist is the starting point for interacting with the Dashboard. It's a printable document that outlines all the steps required to serve as a STAIR-Annapolis volunteer. The checklist is an easy way for you to stay organized as you move through the Dashboard, and helps STAIR-Annapolis staff ensure each volunteer has completed all the necessary requirements before the first day of tutoring.


It's now easier than ever to access STAIR-Annapolis Volunteer Training whenever it's most convenient for you. We've refreshed our training this year, offering two different on-demand videos, each with a distinctive focus. Part 1 is called "Getting Ready to Volunteer" and Part 2 is called "Working with Your Student." Hosted by our very own Volunteer Coordinator, Malena Ruland, these videos cover everything from a brief history of STAIR-Annapolis to useful tips and tricks to enhance tutoring sessions. Presentation slides are included, too, and these can be downloaded and saved for future reference.



Anne Arundel County Public Schools requires all volunteers to view and verify the AACPS-produced Sexual Harassment and Child Abuse Video every year. This video is now embedded on the STAIR-Annapolis Volunteer Dashboard, where we've also added a convenient verification form. In just a few minutes, you can have this task checked off your list and the results are sent directly to STAIR staff!



All STAIR-Annapolis volunteers must submit a background check in order to work with the children enrolled in our program. These background checks are good for two years, after which a new application has to be submitted. The Volunteer Dashboard includes an entire page dedicated to this essential element of tutoring with STAIR. We've created a helpful how-to video to guide you through the process, a direct link to initiate the background check application, and a verification form that notifies STAIR staff that the application has been completed.



Occasionally, STAIR-Annapolis will offer small group in-person training sessions. When these sessions are scheduled, volunteers will be able to access registration links from the Volunteer Dashboard. Be sure to check our Facebook page and website calendar for announcements regarding in-person training opportunities!



The Tutor Resource section of the Volunteer Dashboard contains links, videos, and other resources to help our volunteers make the most of every tutoring session. We're always seeking out content that will help tutors feel prepared to work with students no matter where they are or what literacy skills they need the most support with. This section will be updated frequently, and we hope it'll offer our valued volunteers a go-to source for tips and tricks to ensure success!



STAIR-Annapolis volunteers are dedicated to asking all the right questions in an effort to bring their very best to every tutoring session. The FAQ section of the Volunteer Dashboard is here to help, with a list of some of the most common questions new and experienced tutors have about joining the STAIR program, working with second graders, and following STAIR-Annapolis policies and procedures. We'll add to this list often, so if you have a question you don't see just let us know!


We're really excited about bringing this new tool to our volunteers. It's our sincere hope that the Volunteer Dashboard helps simplify the administrative tasks that our volunteers must complete before the first day of STAIR so they can focus on getting to know their students and starting the adventure in reading together!

Did You Know? STAIR Makes a Difference!

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Did You Know? STAIR Makes a Difference!

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on July 7, 2021

If you're here, it's a pretty safe bet that you're a fan of reading. It's also likely that you understand how important it is for kids to learn to read well in early elementary school so they're positioned for academic success through middle school and beyond.

The following facts about reading might surprise you. But they also help highlight why programs like STAIR-Annapolis make a real difference in the lives of young readers.

1. Too many students don't read well enough to succeed.

According to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the only assessment tool that measures American students' knowledge and aptitude in a variety of subjects, 35% of public school 4th graders read below basic achievement level, meaning they have only "partial mastery of the prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work" at grade level. You can read more about the NAEP assessment reports here.

The STAIR program works exclusively with second graders reading below grade level. We know how important it is that striving young readers get the extra support they need to catch up to their peers and achieve proficiency before they enter the more academically rigorous middle grades.

2. The "achievement gap" is real...and it matters.

Students who start kindergarten academically behind their peers often keep falling farther behind as they move through school. Language differences, limited exposure to books, and lack of prior knowledge have all been proven to contribute to some kids' reading difficulties. What's more, certain groups of students are far more susceptible to these differences--and corresponding reading challenges--than others.

STAIR targets students at the beginning of their reading adventure, before they have a chance to fall too far behind. We provide new books for home libraries, so kids always have access to high-quality, diverse reading material that matches their interests, and our volunteers are trained to support Anne Arundel County Schools literacy curriculum in an encouraging, one-on-one environment.

3. Learning to read is a complicated process.

Kids need to develop tons of skills simultaneously in order to learn to read well. In a 1990 study, educational researcher Marilyn Adams likened the process of learning to read to operating a car. But if reading is like driving, emerging readers also need to learn to:

  • Build the car (learn to identify letters, words, and sounds)
  • Service the car (gain access to a steady stream of reading material of increasing difficulty)
  • Drive the car (stay focused, motivated, and on track)

Adams went on to say that unlike building a car, reading doesn't happen on an assembly line, with one piece fitting into the next until the car is complete. "Rather, the parts of the reading system must grow together. They must grow on one another and from one another." That can be a lot for a five- or six-year-old to manage! (Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print by Marilyn Jager Adams)

The STAIR curriculum is built to help kids progress through all the moving parts of literacy development. With structured lesson plans, reading games, books, and the passion, creativity, and dedication of our volunteers, kids are able to work on the skills they need to become stronger, more confident readers.

4. Phonics is crucial to reading success.

Studies have shown that kids who struggle to read well very often have difficulty understanding that the sounds they hear in words are linked to specific letters and letter patterns.

When kids don't have a solid foundation in phonics and phonemic awareness--the principle that teaches that words are made up of letter sounds--they may have trouble gaining grade-level reading proficiency.

The STAIR-Annapolis curriculum helps kids strengthen their phonemic awareness. Our program supports Anne Arundel County Public Schools phonics instruction, giving young readers the building blocks for lifelong academic success.

5. A little extra help goes a long way.

The vast majority of below-grade level readers benefit significantly from programs and interventions that let them practice literacy skills like accuracy, fluency, phonemic awareness, and reading comprehension. With a little extra support, these students are often able to reach grade-level achievement or better in a relatively short period of time.

At STAIR, we've seen our students improve an average of more than four Fountas & Pinnell reading levels in a single academic year! Programs like STAIR give striving readers access to one-on-one attention and educator-approved strategies to help significantly boost their reading skills and their self-confidence.

For even more insight into developing readers and the importance of literacy intervention and support programs like STAIR-Annapolis, visit our friends at Reading Rockets.

Thanks from STAIR At Home

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Thanks from STAIR At Home

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on April 28, 2021

Not long ago, we reached out to STAIR At Home families to ask them what they think of this year's modified program so far. We know nothing can replace the one-on-one interaction between students and tutors during our typical in-person programming, but the students have truly benefited from the efforts of our volunteers--all the story videos, literacy lessons, live Book Clubs, and Pen Pal letters have really made a difference, as you can plainly see from the testimonials below.

As we close out Volunteer Appreciation Month, we wanted to take a moment to share some of the wonderful things STAIR At Home families have to say about how much STAIR volunteers have meant to their kids this year.

While we may not be able to celebrate you all in person, we want each of you to know how important your participation and support from the sidelines has been to the success of STAIR At Home. So much of the good that's come from this crazy year is because of you, and for that, we're so grateful.

We'll see you again soon!

"My daughter is very happy and likes everything about the program and everything that she does with the volunteers, who she loves."

"He likes it very much, and thank you for the dedication to each one of the children."

"Thank you, and bless you."

"This is so kind. She really loves the books and letters."

"My daughter Genesis has loved and continues to enjoy participating in the STAIR program. As a mother, I have found it to be a magnificent program and I can see my daughter has learned so much.

Thank you to all who work so hard and participate in this program so that my daughter can continue to progress. Thank you for your help."

"Adrian loves the books, Pen pal, and Book Club."

"We look forward to the monthly books and packages. It's a blessing to have these resources offered to our children in need."

"My son Indigo and I absolutely LOVE the Very Short Stories to Read Together book. Wow! Wow! Wow! He kept wanting to read more. Hooray!"

Happy Volunteer Appreciation Month!

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Happy Volunteer Appreciation Month!

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on April 7, 2021

Volunteers are at the heart of the STAIR-Annapolis organization. We're so fortunate to have a strong team of volunteer tutors helping our students improve their reading skills and boost their self-confidence. This year, we've had more than 150 of those volunteers join us on our STAIR At Home adventure and countless more cheering us on as they await a return to in-person tutoring. Their unwavering dedication and support have made it possible for STAIR-Annapolis to continue to serve young readers.

Like all of our community partners serving youth in education, STAIR-Annapolis has been striving valiantly this past year to safely provide the programming kids need and families rely on. Despite the incredible challenges brought about by the global pandemic, we've experienced real growth, serving our largest student enrollment to date, building digital systems that engage families, staying connected to our volunteers, and offering students a flexible, safe way to get the reading support they need whenever it's most convenient for them.

None of this would be possible without our amazing volunteers!

Nearly everything on the STAIR At Home family website has been submitted by volunteers, from read-aloud videos recorded by Guest Readers and mini literacy lessons from Tutorial Coaches to at-home activities and tips provided by Research Aides. The webpage has become a go-to site for students and their grown-ups to access quality reading resources and fun new ways to share the joy of reading at home. With an average of more than 100 visits per month, we know this content is making a real difference in the lives of STAIR At Home students.

Monthly Book Clubs have been another wonderful way for our volunteers to connect virtually with students (sometimes their siblings and pets join in, too!). By meeting regularly to read together and discuss books, our volunteers have been able to replicate the meaningful relationships that develop between tutor and student over the course of a typical year of in-person programming. More than 35% of STAIR At Home students have attended at least one virtual Book Club, even though kids already spend long days at the computer for e-learning. We've had students log on from daycare centers, from a parent's workplace, even from the backseat of a car! It's so heartening to know that families believe in this program and in the work of our volunteers so much that they're willing to make STAIR At Home Book Club a priority whenever they can.

The final volunteer-driven component of the STAIR At Home program is our very popular Pen Pal exchange. Every STAIR At Home student has been paired with a volunteer Pen Pal and receives a new letter in his or her monthly book package. That means every month, every STAIR student gets a small reminder that someone is thinking of them and interested in what they're doing, wishing them well, encouraging their literacy development, and showing kindness during a really tough time. It's such a simple thing, but it means so much.

This Volunteer Appreciation Month, we couldn't possibly be more grateful for all the ways our volunteers have stepped up and shown up for students. We know nothing could ever replace the delight of building a one-on-one relationship, seeing a child's smiling face each week, helping a young reader develop new skills, or sharing the simple pleasure of reading a good book together, but we want to be sure our volunteers--all of our volunteers--know just how much they mean to us and just how much their efforts are appreciated.

From all of us at STAIR-Annapolis, thank you.