by Deidre Williams
The Buffalo News

WANTED: Senior citizens who enjoy working with kids to serve as literacy tutors in three Buffalo elementary schools to provide extra reading help and nurture self-esteem and a positive attitude towards learning

QUALIFICATIONS: Must be at least 50 years old, have a high school diploma or equivalent and pass all required criminal background checks and fingerprinting. Candidates also should have excellent communication skills, be creative, responsible, organized, flexible and self-motivated.

BENEFITS: Fulfillment of serving as role models for students, inspiring and educating future generations and making a measurable impact on students' literacy.

Read to Succeed Buffalo and the AARP Foundation Experience Corps are partnering with the city of Buffalo to launch a recruitment campaign to attract about 40 volunteers to tutor students up to the third-grade at West Hertel Academy, Waterfront Elementary and Dr. Lydia T. Wright schools.

Mayor Byron W. Brown will announced the initiative in a City Hall news conference at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Education experts agree that third grade is the turning point for students to transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn." Students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma, and poverty compounds the problem, according to a 2012 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Poor children are three times more likely to drop out or fail to graduate than their more affluent peers if they don't learn to read by third grade, the study found. And black and Latino students - who make up 67 percent of the Buffalo Public Schools enrollment - are eight times more likely to drop out if they are poor and aren't reading at grade level by third grade.

The tutoring program is funded through a $200,000 grant from the AARP Foundation that was matched by the John R. Oishei Foundation and Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. The City of Buffalo has allocated $40,000 to the program.

Volunteer training and coaching will be provided by Read to Succeed Buffalo and the AARP Experience Corps.

Tutors will be required to attend a minimum of 15 hours of pre-service tutoring before entering the classrooms. The commitment involves a minimum of four hours per week over two days a week for the entire school year, plus additional time for required training and team meetings.

Students will be referred to the program by teachers and literacy coaches, based primarily on scores on early reading assessments.

The tutors would work with up to three small groups of no more than four students in each group.