Larry Jemison

Cleveland, OH

"I always talked about what schools were doing wrong. This was my chance to do something about it."

I am an Experience Corps stipended tutor in the Cleveland, Ohio public schools. I retired from my job as a senior letter carrier in Cleveland and told my wife I was going to take a year off and not do anything. At the end of that year, she said “Your year’€™s up. What are you gonna do?”€ The truth is I didn’t have any idea.

I happened to attend a community event and saw a table set up by Greater Cleveland Volunteers. They asked me, “Are you interested in tutoring children in public schools?”

I thought: I’€™ve always been the one talking about what the teachers aren’€™t doing and what the schools aren’t doing, and what they need to do, so this was my chance to actually do something.

It had never occurred to me that I would like doing something like this. But I went in for an interview, had a background check since I’d be working with kids, and the rest is history. This is my 6th year working three days a week, five hours a day.

We help the children learn to read, so by the time they get to 4th grade, they have skills to succeed. Their teacher gives us an evaluation of where their weaknesses are and we work on that area. With the kindergarteners, it’s mostly ABCs. They can sing the song “€œABC”€ but can’€™t recognize the letters. So we work on letter recognition, upper and lower case.

The school I’m in now the average class size is 40+ kids. The ones that are low in those areas of literacy kind of get lost. Teachers don’t have time work with the individual student and get them up to the level with the rest of the kids. So we are a big help to them.

Larry JemisonI get real joy in seeing the impact of our work. The kids I started out with are now in the 5th grade. I still see them and they recognize me and they tell me they are doing OK, maybe not where they should be, but without the help of the tutoring, they would be unable to compete with rest of kids in class. Seeing the improvement in the kids makes you feel good.

One young boy sticks out in my memory. It was my second year and he came from a home with drug addiction issues. He had started to catch on during the school year, but I worried that during the summer break, he would lose ground. We worked with his foster mother over the summer, giving him material to study. When he came back the next year, you wouldn’t have known it was the same boy. He had made so much progress.

What I have learned is that, for young children, the attention of an adult is very important. I tell my friends that, if they are retired, don’t have anything to do, like kids, and if education is important to them, they should do this.

I was a complainer about poor schools, but I found out they are doing the best they can with the resources that they have. And I get enjoyment from giving back and helping those who need help.

(Learn more about AARP’s Experience Corps program here.)

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