literacy tutor and student with Down syndrome

Volunteers are the backbone of GiGi’s Playhouse. They help make all the various programs run throughout the week. We have featured other volunteers on our blog before. But the Literacy Tutoring Program is the biggest program at GiGi’s nationally, impacting thousands of individuals with Down syndrome of ALL ages by empowering them with the ability to read! But the lives of the volunteers tutoring them are also changed. Read on to get to know Adrianne, one of our Detroit Literacy Tutors,  and how this experience is impacting her, while also making a difference in the lives of those she tutors.

How did you get connected to GiGi’s Playhouse?

Through my good friend, Ashley Caza, and our amazing community of friends in Beverly Hills. We all love Zac and GiGi’s is an incredible vehicle for him and other beautiful children to live a fuller life.

What drew you get involved with GiGi’s and specifically become a Literacy Tutor?

I started out volunteering on Saturdays, helping out with various programs for an hour here and there. I wanted my children to get involved as well, and often brought my youngest daughter (13) with me. The start of the Literacy program coincided with a layoff from work, so I had ample time to spare.

Do you have a background in education or previous experience working with individuals with disabilities?

I do not have a background in education or working with children with disabilities. The closest activity I’ve been involved with is teaching catechism at various church programs. But on those Saturdays at the Playhouse I saw the excitement and energy and overall enthusiasm of the kids and thought “reading” would be so beneficial.

How did the training prepare you for your one-on-one work with participants?

literacy tutor and student with Down syndromeThe training was very helpful in many ways. It introduced me to other tutors – drawing on each other’s experience is key to success, especially when you don’t have a background in teaching or working with kids with Down syndrome. We encourage each other. The program leaders also have a wealth of experience and availed themselves to us 24/7. Being taught how to create lesson plans and how to measure progress was also essential (although I have improvement ideas to make it even easier for volunteers moving forward). However, the program cannot prepare you for your participant, which is understandable, since each participant is so very different in terms of preparedness, education, willingness to read, patience, etc. I had to really adjust any preconceived ideas and plans to properly fit my students. That took time and patience.

Share about a rewarding experience with a participant.

The best part of any session is seeing your student get excited about accomplishing a goal – which could range from recognizing a simple word to reading through a short book from start to finish. Those smiles! I wait for the big smiles when they know they’ve done something amazing. And I still appreciate how much they love coming to GiGi’s more generally; their home away from home.

How has this experience impacted you personally?

It’s been amazing, but also trying at times. Those trying times, however, make even the small successes so worthwhile. I have also learned to be more patient – not my strong suit. I’ve learned that success is not measured universally and to appreciate the small steps moving forward. It also gives me great hope for this community moving forward. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished with the right mentoring, time, and commitment.

Do you have any advice for someone considering volunteering?

Definitely. Do it. You can make such a big difference in the life of student. And there are so many waiting in line for tutoring. So tell your friends too! Make sure you have time to spare – each lesson plan takes at least 30-45 minutes to prepare, then you have to reflect on the session and fill out progress sheets. So I’d put aside at least an hour per student per week.

Any additional insight or experience you want to share?

literacy tutor and student with Down syndromeDon’t be afraid to be creative – think outside the box. Focus on getting to know your student, then try to come up with lesson plans that reflect his or her likes and personality. Blake loves music, for example. So I try to play at least one song or talk about his favorite artists in each session; same with football. Once we did an exercise whereby I wrote words associated with football on the white board; he was asked questions and had to choose the correct response from the Board. It was more fun than just reading a book and asking questions. Students with DS don’t always respond to traditional ways of learning and you have to keep that in mind and try anything and everything!

Ready to jump in?

So are you now inspired to join the Literacy Tutoring program as a tutor? This is the perfect time to sign up! You will experience bright spots to our long winter here in Michigan!

Here is the upcoming schedule for the winter session:

  • Tutor applications are now open. The deadline to sign up is by the on-site training- January 11. Sign up here.
  • Saturday, January 11 is the on-site training at the playhouse. This is a mandatory training for all new tutors. It lasts about 3 hours. The tutors will walk through the curriculum, learn about where the materials are stored, write a lesson plan, and ask any questions they may have.
  • Saturday, January 18 is the meet and greet. This is where the tutors meet their student and their family and determine their tutoring schedule. This is a great way for tutors to connect with their student before the session begins!

Register as a tutor today!

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