In honor of National Volunteer Week 2023, we chatted with Janet Romano, a volunteer in Reading Partners New York City who has been tutoring for eleven years.
Watch a highlight from Janet’s interview here.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What’s your name, occupation, and Reading Partners region?
My name is Janet Romano. I am not working now, I’m retired. I used to be in banking and then I spent a lot of time just being a mom. And my region is New York City.
How long have you been tutoring?
This is my eleventh year.
Why did you decide to start tutoring all those years ago?
I read about Reading Partners, it was rather random, I think it was in a letter to the editor in the New York Times. And in the summer of 2012, I reached out and started tutoring in the fall of 2012 at P.S. 188. So I had spent a lot of time in my children’s school in London in the library both as a volunteer and part-time, did some work there, and absolutely loved it, and just always enjoyed reading with my own children and supporting the children in that school in the library. So going into Reading Partners and especially coming into New York City, which I love, was just a great way to combine my interest in literacy, children, and New York City.
How has your tutoring experience changed over the years?
I have to say honestly that it’s just gotten better and better. I think that the resources for Reading Partners have gotten better and better, and I’ve gotten to be a better tutor. I think that initially when I first started, I thought “Oh, I’m just going to read to the kids,” and that’s kind of what it was about. Obviously, I saw that it was more robust and I understood all the goals of Reading Partners. But there was a bit of a learning curve, as there is for all new tutors, but I really did feel very supported. You’re just working with the students right from the beginning, one-on-one, beginning of the year, so even though your skills as a tutor continue to grow through the year, you still feel like you’re making an impact on day one. So that was very important to me.
And then over time, I mean, gosh, so much has changed. I am using RPCx now and did work with students virtually at my school, P.S. 2 in September of 2020 when the program got up and running. The virtual went off so much better than I thought. I think most of the tutors would say that. I was really impressed with how Reading Partners got that up and running.
It was great for me and continues to be great for me. I am now in the classroom at P.S. 171, but the biggest game-changer for me was actually being able to prepare for my session from home. Because even if you get to school on time, which we all do, for our prep time, I’m just someone who can really use some quiet time. I use a bit of a longer runway for some of the lessons, so I think that that’s a huge positive change for me personally and for how I can deliver an effective session to the students.
What’s kept you coming back to Reading Partners year after year?
Just having that one-on-one time with the students from pretty much the beginning of the year, is just a real gift. It’s a gift for me. Most importantly, obviously, I hope it’s a gift for the students and that their reading continues to improve. But honestly, if I weren’t growing and learning, then maybe I wouldn’t have stuck with it for 11 years.
It’s the combination of the contribution that I really feel confident that I’m making to the student, the program, and what I get out of it. I’m never bored. Children, like all of us, are unique. It’s nice to be reminded about how unique we all are and there’s no better way to be reminded of that than to do this work with children.
So by the time the summer is over, I am just ready to rock and roll with Reading Partners. I really miss it and I want to get back to it.
What’s a fond/favorite memory you have from your time tutoring?
It’s very hard to come up with one memory! But I have to say that being able to just share great children’s literature with my students during that ten-minute read aloud. That is a great memory for me.
There’s so many wonderful books out there. Some that I remember from my own kids’ days and then I get to learn and read all the new authors.
But, picture books are not just picture books. They can have wonderful, wonderful stories and to share that gift of a story with a child, one on one, those are my memories. That’s what I love.
So that’s not really an answer to that one, you know, one stellar memory. There have been many over the years and honestly, all of my students have been great. I have loved all of my students.
What’s some advice you have for other tutors?
Take your time and don’t be intimidated. In the very beginning, I really wanted to do more of what we now call the AR curriculum instead of the beginning reader and emerging readers. Like I was a little intimidated by that. I think it was just that whole phonological awareness thing that I was afraid I was going to say the letter wrong or that I wouldn’t remember it myself.
But I think Reading Partners has done a wonderful job supporting me in that and the other tutors. And so now I don’t shy away from that at all. I’m happy to do anything in the curriculum. And so I think my advice would be to just take your time.
It’s not all going to happen at once. Nobody expects it all to happen at once. But you’re going to be supported both in the classroom and through the program with the trainings. I think the trainings from when I started till now have really improved. And maybe that’s as much a function of the technology we’re using as well. And being able to deliver it virtually. But I think the training has really, really supported me in many ways.
I’ll do the same training every year just to refresh myself and I always pick up things that I maybe missed the first time or have forgotten or just needed a little reinforcement on. So I would say take your time, do the trainings, ask questions and just enjoy that time with your student.
What’s your favorite book?
Well, I’m not going to do a favorite book because I think that Jane Austen, her books are one of my favorites, but I feel like that’s kind of such a cliché at this point. But she was my pandemic read because it was just my way to escape.
But a book that I read recently was called The Magician by Colm Tóibín. And that was about Thomas Mann, a German writer from the early to mid 20th century. And I’ve never read any of his books, but I just really enjoyed learning about him. It’s a fictionalized account, so it’s not a biography. But he was someone I really didn’t know anything about.
I didn’t know much about his works and just being able to explore him and his works and his period of time in Germany, especially between the two world wars was I just think really, really interesting and I just enjoyed that very much.
Was there anything else you wanted to share about your tutoring experience or Reading Partners?
Well, I never want to miss an opportunity to give a shout out to Brianna Brady, my site coordinator. She is amazing. We’ve worked together for two years and she just really gets the curriculum, gets the students and is just always there for us. And I really appreciate the work that she does every single day.
I really love Reading Partners and I think they’re doing just really valuable work. I know they’re doing this around the country, but I just really feel like it’s a very important contribution to New York City, the work that they do.