Education: Mentors help young readers improve over course of year


COURTHOUSE — Virginia Beach READS, now in its second year, enhances the reading skills of local first grade students.

The program offers Beach residents the chance to help students during the school year by mentoring them one on one.

Barb Ryan is one of many volunteer tutors returning to the program this year.

Tearing up, she discussed a student who started the program this past year reading far below their grade level. By the end of the year, the student made great progress – meeting their required reading level.

“I guess you don’t realize how they’re progressing,” she said during a break from a training session for tutors. “Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back, but somewhere along the way they get it.” 

Silvia Johnson, a retired teacher and returning tutor, said one-on-one work with students is valuable. Johnson worked in Boston as a special education teacher. She moved to Virginia Beach three years ago, and she uses her background as an educator to help students through the program.

“The best thing was seeing her build confidence,” Johnson said, speaking of a child she worked with last year.  “She felt accomplished, and she knew she earned it.”

Johnson said the design of Virginia Beach READS is responsible for the success she sees in students. 

“I worked with many, many programs in different schools, and this is the best program I have ever done,” she said. “The motivation and the dedication from the staff, the teachers and the parents are really on par.”

Basil Abdalla helps manage the program. He is a recent Yale graduate, a member of AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America, and the mentor program coordinator for Virginia Beach READS.

Abdalla said the program’s goal is to bring students’ reading ability up to grade level or higher. Virginia Beach READS is developed by GrowSmart, a program of the city economic development department.

Karen Kehoe, GrowSmart’s coordinator, said data from the program’s past year shows advancements at each of the schools in the program.

The program partners with three schools and other nonprofits to do its work, and it depends upon volunteers, too. 

Mentoring positions in this program, which began again this month, are available, and no prior experience is needed.

For information on mentoring or supporting the program, reach Abdalla via or (757) 385-4723. 

More information about Virginia Beach GrowSmart is at


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