As SVP Alumni Investee ONE TO ONE gets set to celebrate their 30th anniversary, we catch up with the staff to talk about where they’ve been, what they’ve accomplished, how SVP has helped them in their journey, and what lies ahead.
Q1. So, let’s start with something easy. What does ONE TO ONE do?
ONE TO ONE is a free literacy tutoring program backed by a mission to help children develop lifelong literacy skills. We match struggling elementary school readers with volunteer literacy tutors. Each student spends 30 minutes one to two times each week with a ONE TO ONE volunteer tutor in an environment where it is okay to take risks, to make mistakes, and to learn at their own pace.
Q2. Where did ONE TO ONE start?
ONE TO ONE started in Sir Guy Carleton Elementary School in 1989 – 30 years ago.
Q3. That’s amazing. Congratulations! Who’s been with ONE TO ONE the longest?
We’re incredibly lucky to have a dedicated and long-standing community around ONE TO ONE. We’re still regularly in touch with individuals who were there at the very beginning including some past board members, and we even have one long-standing volunteer who’s been with us for over 20 years!
Q4. So how many people were you back then and how many people are you now?
ONE TO ONE began as a Junior League of Greater Vancouver project (an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism). It started in one school with a handful of volunteers. We now have a full-time staff team of four in Vancouver, more than 30 liaisons across BC, and during the last school year we had over 1,319 volunteer tutors supporting children across BC.
Q5. Let’s get into some of the details. What is the actual definition of literacy?
Literacy is defined as the ability to read and write, or competence or knowledge in a specified area.
Q6. Why is there a need for ONE TO ONE? Isn’t Canada’s literacy rate pretty good?
Canada’s adult literacy rate is 99 per cent, which sounds high but this is using the word “literacy” at a base level. Here are some stats for you:
48% of adult Canadians have low literacy skills, skills that fall below high school equivalency and affect their ability to function at work and in their personal lives. (OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, 2013)
17% function at the lowest level, where individuals may, for example, be unable to read the dosage instructions on a medicine bottle. (ibid)
75% of British Columbians with high literacy rates describe themselves as being in excellent or very good health, compared to only 30% of those with low literacy. (IALSS, 2003)
ONE TO ONE helps children develop literacy skills to last a lifetime; and when this means opening the door to better work opportunities, personal lives and health care, the need is clearer than ever.
Q7: So between parents and the school system, how do the kids fall through the cracks?
It could be for a number of reasons. Our program is aimed at the grey-area students, those who don’t receive any other resource support directly from the schools.
What does that mean?
Basically students who don’t have any designated learning issues but are not yet reading at grade level and often receive little or no literacy support at home. We’re proud to be able to offer the ONE TO ONE program to meet the needs of these children and give them a brighter future
Q8: Where does the ONE TO ONE program take place?
In schools, during school time. That way we can reach children who need extra reading support without there being extra pressure put on parents and guardians to find the additional time in their day.
Q9: What age are the children that take part in the program?
A child’s Grade 3 reading level can predict their school success more accurately than any other variable, such as a child’s first language or their parents’ income and education. With this in mind we offer the ONE TO ONE program in elementary schools from Grade 1-7.
Q10: Describe a typical reading session.
Typically, a reading session will take place in a library or spare room. Sessions are 30 minutes once or twice a week – this is enough time for tutors to get to know students, play literacy games, and read a book.
Q11: Do parents or schools have to pay for the ONE TO ONE program?
No, the program is completely free to parents and schools. This is integral to our vision of a world where all children have acquired a passion for reading and with that, the self-confidence to propel them toward success. Literacy should be something that all have access to, not just those who can afford additional support.
Q12: What sort of books do the children read with tutors?
Children and tutors select books together that are appropriate to their current level of reading. The goal is to pick something that the child is comfortable with but that challenges them so that they are stretching themselves and learning in an achievable way.
In 2014, with SVP’s help, ONE TO ONE launched a Book Box project that gave tutors improved access to a full range of specially selected DRA-levelled books. These materials provide consistent levelled and organized reading materials to address the needs of each child in all program schools.
Q13: What’s a common mistake parents, or just adults in general, might make when reading with kids?
A big one is covering up pictures because they think their child is simply guessing and not actually reading. When children first learn to read, picture clues are really helpful for comprehension. They place some meaning behind something that, at first, makes no sense.
Q14: How does ONE TO ONE make reading fun for kids?
Well reading a book isn’t the only way to learn, so we include word games in our book boxes too. If a volunteer tutor has an energetic, distracted young learner this can be so helpful. It brings fun to something that can seem daunting and challenging at first.
Q15: How many communities are you in across BC?
The ONE TO ONE program is part of 27 communities across BC and still growing!
Q16: How many schools are you in now?
Q17: How many students did you reach last year?
We are so proud to have reached over 3,200 students in the last school year alone.
Q18: Where is the most unusual place the ONE TO ONE program has taken place?
On Salt Spring Island there is a school inside a yurt –that would have to be at the top of the list!
Q19: What skills are needed to volunteer with ONE TO ONE?
Our volunteers are all patient, caring, and dedicated to helping children read. ONE TO ONE provides training for all suitable volunteers so avid bookworms who are committed to helping children learn are encouraged to apply to volunteer with us!
Q20: How much time do volunteers give on average?
Volunteers read with children for either three hours in the morning or two hours in the afternoon every week during the school year. Some tutors do this once a week, others commit to two or three sessions.
Q21: How long do volunteers stay with you?
We have many dedicated volunteers that have been with us for years. Each year we recognize and award those volunteers who’ve been with us for 3, 5, 7, 10 and 15 years. Last year over 15% of our volunteers were recognized in this way.
Q22: How do you celebrate your volunteers?
ONE TO ONE could not operate without the generosity of our incredible volunteers. Every year we hold a volunteer appreciation tea at the beautiful Hycroft Manor where our volunteers are recognized for their service, served sweet treats and entertained by an exciting speaker — this year we had CBC’s Grant Lawrence. We also hold regional coffee chats where volunteers can socialize, share experiences, and ask any questions they may have about tutoring.
Q23: How is ONE TO ONE funded?
The ONE TO ONE program is completely funded by grants (less than 10 per cent of our income comes from government grants) and private donations from our generous supporters.
Q24: Do you hold any special events to raise funds?
Since 2006 we’ve held an annual adult Spelling Bee in May. This flagship event brings together long-standing supporters and Vancouver professionals for some friendly early-morning competition, all in the name of supporting children’s literacy. The funds raised help us to expand the program to more young readers while keeping it free for schools and families.
We’ve held a variety of other special events including a literary salon fundraiser with internationally-acclaimed Canadian novelist Madeleine Thien.
Q25: Where are donations spent?
Donations are used to purchase new books and literacy resources, train new volunteer tutors, and provide program support to the students, volunteer tutors, and schools.
Q26: How has SVP helped you develop the program?
SVP has been instrumental in ONE TO ONE’s success. From 2014, SVP gave ONE TO ONE significant financial assistance which meant that the focus could be on growth instead of fund development for that period. This led to:
- the hire of our first full-time member of staff (an executive director to lead ONE TO ONE’s growth)
- the placement of book boxes in every school
- a logo and brand refresh
- a new website
- the introduction of a CRM and procedures manual to support growth
- media coverage and the tools to build more relationships with our community.
In turn, this led to the recruitment and training of more volunteer literacy tutors, the hiring of additional area liaisons and staff members, the expansion of our provincial program and a greater number of children served than ever before!
The financial assistance provided was greatly complemented by the generosity of skills shared which really launched ONE TO ONE to the next level. Having access to the expertise of the SVP Partners was invaluable and instrumental to our huge growth during this period.
Q27: Who were your Lead Partners at SVP?
Sam Znamier and Norm Francis were our Lead Partners and continue to be close supporters. Sam comes to our Spelling Bee every year, bringing a group of passionate participants. Through the Francis Family Foundation, Norm has been a generous matching donor to our winter campaign as well as a supporter and ally to ONE TO ONE generally.
We feel so lucky to have two such dedicated and inspiring Partners continue to support us.
Q28: What difference has ONE TO ONE made?
In our latest school survey, all respondents described ONE TO ONE as a success in their school. Every day we hear heart-warming stories from volunteers about the differences they see in the children they tutor week on week, children who now enjoy reading and whose confidence has blossomed thanks to the program. We’ve reached thousands of children over our 30 years and plan to continue to make a difference in people’s lives for years to come.
Q29: What’s next for ONE TO ONE?
We are so proud of what we’ve achieved so far but our work is far from over. We connect with the schools in our program every year and there is a real appetite for even more volunteer tutors to read with children in our local schools. We’re really focusing on recruiting more volunteers and closing this gap.
Additionally, we’re expanding the content in our book boxes to include books that reflect the diversity of the communities and children we serve. For example, according to a study conducted by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, only 26% of children’s books published 2017 contained multi-cultural content while only 3.6% had LGBTQ+ content.
It’s important to fill our book boxes with stories as diverse as the students reading them. After all, something profound happens when children see themselves represented in stories. It tells them that their feelings are valid and their adventures are limitless, no matter their gender, culture, ability, or skin colour. Reading diverse books also widens children’s eyes to worlds they may have never known otherwise, opening the door to empathy and appreciation of others’ differences.
Q30: Last question! How are you celebrating being part of the community for 30 years?
We have a year of exciting projects launching, all kicking off with a ONE TO ONE 30th Anniversary Celebration on September 12th, ONE TO ONE Day. For updates and stories from our past 30 years, SVP Partners can keep an eye on our social media and sign up to our newsletter.
The 30th Anniversary Party
September 12th, 6:00pm
SVP partners and a guest are invited to join ONE TO ONE as they raise a glass to the last 30 years of boosting the reading skills and self-confidence of children across BC. Get a sneak peek of ONE TO ONE’s future plans, eat a slice of birthday cake, and watch as the dome lights of Science World light up in ONE TO ONE’s signature blue, green and orange. RSVP here