Oasis volunteer Sandra Chieffe helps a student at Allegheny Traditional Academy. (Photo courtesy Oasis)
After seeing an ad calling for tutors to help Northside students learn how to read better, Sandra Chieffe decided to give it a shot. After nine years of volunteering at Allegheny Traditional Academy, she couldn’t be happier with the result.
“The kids are wonderful,” Chieffe said. “To see how much of a difference it can make in their lives, whether it’s helping them read better, being more interested in school, doing better in school, having less disciplinary problems or participating more in class.
The program, called Oasis, focuses on reading and brings together children in grades K-4 with adults ages 50 and older. It is a national organization headquartered locally in the Macy’s in downtown Pittsburgh and has worked with 1,320 students in Pittsburgh over the last 10 years.
Oasis tutoring coordinator Marlene Rebb is impressed with the numbers, but stops short of saying she is satisfied. The program is always looking for more tutors, and Oasis staff and volunteers understand many more kids need extra help.
“Last school year 96 percent of the teachers reported improved confidence and self-esteem in their students who were tutored,” Rebb said.
Glenna Creaves, who tutors at Spring Hill and has been with the program for years, said that working one-on-one with the students allows her to meet their needs.
“It’s very rewarding,” Creaves said. “There is just a different kind of relationship.”
The program has been gaining momentum and has even received praise from the judicial system.Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Dwayne D. Woodruff applauds the program and the potentially life changing foundation it creates.
“With [the Oasis tutors’] strong efforts on the front end while kids are still elementary age, it is more likely that I will not see the kids in my courtroom on the back end once they become teens,” Woodruff said.
“Young kids who can read well will be more academically capable and thereby inclined to avail themselves to the wide world of opportunities created by their prowess while steering clear of illegal activities for financial gain.”
Creaves is a retired teacher, but not all the tutors have teaching experience. Shirley Fisher, the acting manager of the Pittsburgh program, said people “from all walks of life” volunteer.
“We have doctors, lawyers, school teachers, health professionals. We get them through word of mouth, catalog and newsprint,” Fisher said.
The program only requires a commitment of “One Hour, One Day, One Time a Week,” yet some of the tutors schedule extra hours.
One of those tutors, Philip Wilson, decided to volunteer after seeing a sign for Oasis in 2001. He tutors two days a week in two different schools: Allegheny Traditional Academy and Clayton Academy in Bellevue.
Despite the program’s focus on reading, Wilson is happy say that the learning doesn’t stop there. He said he has seen improvement in his students, and the schools have noticed and reached out to him to make sure he comes back each year.
“I think it encourages the students, and they feel special, and they have somebody to talk to,” Wilson said.
“The students spend a lot of time discussing their career goals, problems they have in the neighborhood and at home and at school. We sometimes discuss black history or even sports. There is a huge variety of things,” he added.
That kind of relationship between the schools, the tutors and the students is what has helped Oasis to continue to grow.
Chieffe also finds that making time for the kids is easy, especially considering the rewards.
“One hour a week, to me, is just very easy to do,” she said. "You don’t think one hour a week is going to make a difference — but it does. It’s very rewarding to see them improve their reading or their writing, playing word games with them. It’s just delightful.”
Isaac Saul is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh and currently interns with The Chronicle.