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The Grandparent Effect
Written By: Jeni Johnson, ECBA Program Manager

As a literacy organization, ECBA is a little bit different. Our volunteers are older adults who bring a wealth of lived experience to their work with young students struggling to read. As you might expect, this experience is academically invaluable to children who benefit from our tutors’ extensive work and education backgrounds. The less obvious benefit though, is what we sometimes call, “the grandparent effect.” One our Berkeley volunteers described this as the uplift in a child’s life that results from the calm, consistent presence of a mature adult. This particular volunteer became an ECBA tutor in part to honor his own grandparents whose gentle and steady care assuaged the effects of his tumultuous home life.

ECBA is a research-based organization committed to student academic achievement. It might seem ironic that one of our greatest strengths is nearly impossible to quantify. There is no standardized test to capture the deep relief of the third grader who has just been bullied on the playground when she is offered a sympathetic shoulder pat and understanding look by Vigi Molino, ECBA tutor at Sankofa Elementary. Similarly, how do we quantify the story of a 2nd grader who recently asked Shari Fleming at Muir Elementary if she would mind being his grandma? Or the spontaneous cheers that erupt in Mrs. Pollard’s kindergarten class every Tuesday when Debbie Montarano enters the room?

Extend these moments of gentle connection across the hundreds of hours served by our 200+ volunteers in a given school year and you begin to get a sense of the grandparent effect. In truth it is misleading to suggest that ECBA’s strong academic focus is in any way contradicted by the rich emotional presence our volunteers bring to a school community. Common sense (and a growing body of research) tells us that the two go hand in hand. Children who feel emotionally safe and connected are better able to focus on learning.


Click here to learn about becoming a volunteer mentor for ECBA.



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