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United Way's Vello tutoring program helping bridge the reading gap during the Covid-19 slide

Posted at 9:19 AM, Oct 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-30 12:19:20-04

PHOENIX — Valley of the Sun United Way started a virtual tutoring program called Vello, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, for students needing extra support in reading.

The program was designed to be completely virtual in order to make volunteering more feasible for those interested in helping. With current online schooling for most Arizona's children, the Vello program is serving a crucial need.

"The volunteer connects virtually with a student. E-books are on the screen and they read together for 30 minute sessions," said Reid DeSpiegelaere, founder of the program here in Arizona.

Those who are receiving help are children like nine-year-old Gisselle Meraz, who is currently in 3rd grade.

"Really nice, because she was excited to join. She was always 'Mom don't forget my session'," says Cynthia Felix, mother of Gisselle, a participant of the tutoring program.

"She made a good growth in her reading level. She's reading 120 words per minute and that's very good," added Felix. "We are talking thousands of kids benefiting from the program"

Usually, a 'summer slide' exists when it comes to reading but this time around there is a 'COVID slide,' where 50% of the learning loss in the 2019-20 school year is due to the current pandemic, according to the NWEA.

"We started it with hundreds, we are growing it to thousand and it means we need thousands of volunteers as well," added DeSpiegelaere.

If you would like to volunteer, visit Vello.