Learning Leaders, previously known as the New York City School Volunteer Program, was the first program of its kind in the country and has been a national leader for over four decades in using trained volunteers to help meet the educational needs of students in public schools. The goal of Learning Leaders is to aid New York City public school students to gain the educational skills and self-esteem necessary to become successful learners and productive community members. Last year, 150,000 New York City public school students in 752 schools received aid from more than 9,800 volunteers. One of every seven children enrolled in the public school system received instruction from a Learning Leader.
Each of the volunteers gives at least two hours of his or her time per week to a school near work or home. All of the volunteers are screened and trained, and have ongoing support from professional field-based Training Specialists. Learning Leaders was incorporated in 1970 as a nonprofit organization, and about $2.5 million is raised annually to support the program.
Judith Eschweiler has been a Learning Leader since 1996 at PS 179 in Brooklyn, New York. She works three mornings a week at the same school her daughter attended. Her main focus is helping first grade children with their reading and writing skills. Her sessions are held in the classroom library so the children can work with minimal distractions.
Ms. Eschweiler has been asked to work with children of other grades as well. The school guidance counselor, who has observed her work and knows the progress of her children, asked her to work with children in higher grades. Ms. Eschweiler accepted the challenge without hesitation. She will continue working to strengthen the Learning Leaders program at PS 179.
Ms. Eschweiler works hard to encourage her children’s success. She concentrates on sharpening the children’s reading and writing skills and improving their grammar, spelling, and punctuation. She also cultivates their creativity. Her success is shown by her children’s progress. Every day is a new opportunity for her to make a difference in another child’s life. “Miss Judi,” as she’s called at school, believes that there are no children who cannot learn to be better readers. Reading definitely opens new doors for the children and after they become confident in their abilities, they feel better about themselves and perform at a higher level.
The experience, expertise, scope and cost-effectiveness of Learning Leaders make an essential contribution to the city and its children, which no other group provides. The program produces many secondary benefits when the parent volunteers – approximately 7,200 – use their volunteer training and experience to teach their own children at home, pursue their own educational and career goals, and move into leadership positions at their schools. To date, 74% of the Learning Leaders are parent volunteers.
Ms. Eschweiler, as a Learning Leader, has left a lasting impression on children attending New York City’s public schools. An Educational Testing Service Study has measured the success of the program. This study showed that 1/3 of the students who received volunteer assistance because of academic difficulties achieved or exceeded grade-level requirements in reading or math within one year of participation in the program.