Literacy volunteers needed at Holualoa Elementary


A new tutoring program at Holualoa Elementary School is in need of volunteers.

IGNITE is an opportunity for West Hawaii residents to help close the achievement gap among Holualoa Elementary students in kindergarten through third grade, especially when it comes to literacy. It’s being established by Amanda Talarico and Nara Sandberg, members of AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTA.

The goal of the program is to “light the path to literacy” by using alternative teaching methods, such as art, acting and creative writing, to make reading more fun and interactive for students. Volunteer tutors will meet one-on-one with their assigned student at least once a week for 45 minutes during the school day to provide instruction and guided activities, Sandberg said.

The lessons require no preparation and offer flexibility for volunteers to work creatively to meet the needs of their assigned student. Volunteers are encouraged to engage the students in ways that meet their needs, but also get them excited about what they’re learning and how they’re doing it. So if a student is only interested in practicing reading skills through acting, that’s perfectly fine, Talarico said.

Halfway through and at the end of the school year participating students will be assessed to ensure they’re increasing their literacy skills and making progress toward meeting their grade-level requirements. Sandberg and Talarico also hope to see the keiki acquire more confidence, as well as a lifelong love of learning and reading.

IGNITE is slated to start in September, also when volunteer orientation and training will be held. Long-term volunteers are being sought, ideally those willing to be tutors for the entire school year. Through that role, Sandberg hopes volunteers will discover what a meaningful impact they can make in such a short amount of time while helping students meet measurable reading gains. She also hopes the volunteers will build positive relationships with the children.

All tutors must get a TB test and criminal background check, as required for all volunteers at Holualoa Elementary.

Sandberg and Talarico are University of Delaware alumnae who joined AmeriCorps VISTA because of their love of working with children and their desire to make a difference in the world.

For Talarico, who has a bachelor’s degree in organizational and community leadership, “education can solve so many problems” and literacy — the ability to read and write — is “the basis of everything.” She said by helping children develop strong reading skills at an early age, we’re helping lay the foundation for successes not only in school, but also in life.

Before joining AmeriCorps VISTA at Sandberg’s recommendation, Talarico was a media coordinator at an ad agency in New Jersey and was laid off. She has been here since April.

Sandberg possesses a bachelor’s degree in human services, administration and family policy. She worked as a receptionist at a Connecticut-based law firm prior to arriving in West Hawaii in February. She spent three months last year volunteering at Kalani, a retreat center in Pahoa.

Sandberg and Talarico were sent to Holualoa Elementary because Principal Glenn Gary applied for a three-year AmeriCorps program at his school. Gary wanted help increasing literacy levels and fostering a strong network of community resources.

Sandberg and Talarico said Gary has been a great mentor throughout the development of IGNITE, encouraging them to provide “a range of exciting, innovative and challenging enrichment opportunities” for the participating students. They also expressed appreciation for the support received from the school’s teachers.

For more information or to volunteer, email vista@holualoa.k12.hi.us. Applications are also available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the school office.