Shirley Martin's work with the Foster Grandparent Program provides meaningful volunteer tutorial opportunities for senior citizens who work with students that are reading below grade level in southeastern Arkansas schools. The program was born out of Martin's vision of Foster Grandparents serving at-risk students as reading tutors. Many of the students served by the Foster Grandparents are from single families and minority communities. Assessment results in school districts show that the vast number of students are reading below grade level and indicate the great need for this service.
In the fall of 1997, 16 Grandparents began serving as reading tutors in four area elementary schools. These 16 Grandparents worked with 64 students who had tested in the lowest 25th percentile on the Stanford 9, a norm-based national test. Martin formed a partnership with the Arkansas State Department of Education, Great Rivers Vocational School in McGehee and University of Arkansas at Little Rock to provide training to the volunteers.
Classroom teacher evaluations, conducted in January 1998, reported that all the children were reading with more confidence after just a few months with the Foster Grandparents. Post-testing in the spring of 1998, showed significant increases in six skills—letter recognition, word testing, concepts about print, writing vocabulary, hearing sounds in words and text reading. The students, all ages 6-8, improved their reading scores by an average of one grade level. One 8-year-old moved from the "readiness" level to a third-grade level of reading.
The Foster Grandparents receive training in tutoring techniques, care giving and helping children stay on task. A literacy plan was developed for each student that sets goals for reading improvement. The Foster Grandparents give energy and enthusiasm to students who have been faced with reading difficulties. Based upon the results achieved in the 97-98 school year, Shirley Martin has expanded the reading program to include 100 Foster Grandparents, ages 60-85, for the current school year. These tutors serve 16 sites in 13 school districts.