Tutor wants every kid to read, volunteers to make it happen

Posted: July 8, 2018 at 3:35 a.m.

Little Rock native Barbara Lunon honors the volunteers who influenced her in her youth by volunteering as a reading tutor through the nonprofit literacy group AR Kids Read.

Little Rock native Barbara Lunon honors the volunteers who influenced her in her youth by volunteering as a reading tutor through the nonprofit literacy group AR Kids Read.

When Barbara Lunon was growing up in Little Rock's South End area, her life was enhanced by volunteers who helped her with school work.

She's 61 years old now, retired after a 35-year career in the National Guard, and is busy making her own impact on young pupils as a tutor through AR Kids Read, a nonprofit, volunteer-based literacy intervention program.

"There were so many important people in my life growing up," she says at the Little Rock home she shares with her husband, Darryl. "We had a study center in my community in South End and I would go there after school where they would help me with my studies."

Mentors and volunteers like the late Nora Caldwell, the late Beverly Jones, former Little Rock Mayor Lottie Shackelford, the late Charles Bussey and others were among those that guided Lunon in her youth and whose influences are still felt.

"They set me on the path," she says. "I saw them volunteering in the community, making things better, making my life better."

Lunon -- who served in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom -- first heard about AR Kids Read six years ago at Camp Robinson.

The group, which recruits and trains tutors to work with first- through third-graders that are reading below grade level, was searching for new tutors.

It was a perfect fit for Lunon, and she began volunteering an hour a week at Amboy Elementary. Last year, after her retirement, she started seeing pupils nearer to her home at Baseline Elementary.

"Everyone should know how to read," Lunon says. "Reading takes you places that you might never get a chance to visit."

AR Kids Read has about 400 volunteers across Pulaski County, says Caraline Vaughn, the group's southwest Little Rock regional coordinator. She started working with Lunon this past school year.

"She's an incredible tutor," Vaughn says. "She's dedicated and loves her students so much."

Generally, tutors who have taken an hourlong training course and passed a background check, work with two pupils individually for 30 minutes each. But after a Baseline Elementary teacher saw Lunon working with a pair of children, she asked if she would take on two more.

"Because she was doing such a great job with the two she already had, she ended up volunteering two more hours weekly," Vaughn says.

The prospect of taking on extra duties is typical Lunon, says Pamela Criss, the literacy instructional facilitator at Baseline and who works closely with Lunon.

"She came right in and really wanted to work," Criss says. "She takes her job seriously. She has such a good rapport with the kids, and she wants to do so much more."

While most of the other 10 reading tutors at Baseline stopped tutoring, as is expected, after spring break, Lunon kept holding sessions up until the end of the school year, Criss says.

She had even tried to wrangle some of her students into a summer program, but it didn't work out. Still, with school on summer break, she spends time each Tuesday at the Dee Brown Library in Little Rock tutoring with Literacy Action of Central Arkansas.*

Criss points out that volunteers like Lunon fill a vital role as a sort of bridge between parents and teachers.

"Teachers ask parents to read with their child for an hour a day. But sometimes kids don't have that privilege. The parent may not know how to read, or they're working two or three jobs. So when Barbara and the other tutors come in, they provide that one-on-one reading the children may not get at home."

A typical tutoring session will have Lunon, who is one of 10 volunteers at Baseline, talking with the pupils about the author and illustrator of the book they are going to read.

"I ask them what they think the book is about. They give me their ideas, and then we start reading. They will read to me and if they come across a word they don't know, we look it up and talk about what it means."

After they finish, she wants to know about the characters, the setting and what the children got out of the book.

Criss has a story about one of the pupils Lunon has tutored.

"His behavior was not so great in class. But Barbara had a way of talking with him. He would always ask me 'Is Mrs. Barbara coming today?' And even his teachers were like, 'Is she coming today? We really need her to come today.'"

Lunon knows that literacy can mean a lot more than just being able to read what's on a page.

"If you can't read, you will sit in class and you want to take the attention off the fact that you can't read, so you start acting up."

She has seen changes in the pupils' confidence as their reading skills improve.

"They go back and the other little girls and boys go, 'I want to read with you next time.' That makes them stick their chests out."

Lunon, a member of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, also helps feed Little Rock's homeless once a month through her military sorority, Kappa Epsilon Psi, and the Fishnet Ministry.

And she has already signed up to tutor next school year at Baseline.

"I love it," she says. "I wish I could read to all of those children."

More information about AR Kids Read can be found at arkidsread.org or by calling (501) 244-2661.

Barbara Lunon — retired from the National Guard — has been volunteering as a reading tutor for six years.

High Profile on 07/08/2018

*CORRECTION: AR Kids Read volunteer Barbara Lunon also participates in a reading program with Literacy Action of Central Arkansas. The group was misidentified in a previous version of this story.