Holiday Spirit

Lynn Martin, a volunteer tutor with All Students Matter, reads with Sebastian Contreras during their reading period at Brentwood Academy in East Palo Alto. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Posted December 1, 2017

Educating students, one by one
Volunteer tutors provide struggling kids with social-emotional stability along with academic help

By Elena Kadvany

Inside a quiet classroom at Brentwood Academy in East Palo Alto on Monday afternoon, Gyna Monroy reclined on a blue beanbag, carefully reading aloud from a picture book called "There's a Bird on Your Head!"

With a tutor's gentle prompting, the third-grader worked her way through more difficult words. She sounded out each letter in "idea" before she strung the whole word together, excitedly.

Gyna is one of the more than 2,000 students served by All Students Matter, a volunteer-driven nonprofit providing literacy, math and social-emotional support to elementary school students in the Ravenswood City School District. All Students Matter received $5,000 from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund this year, paying for new volunteer training that the organization's founder described as "invaluable."

Brentwood Academy student Gyna Monroy and reading tutor Evelyn Chan-Cox read the book "Elephant and Piggie" during their weekly reading period at the East Palo Alto school as part of the All Students Matter volunteer program.
As All Students Matter has grown — from 15 people informally volunteering in one Ravenswood school 10 years ago to more than 200 volunteers at six schools — so have the needs of the students it serves. This is reflected in the revamped training, which now consists of one hour focused on literacy and, new last year, one hour on social-emotional support.

All Students Matter Executive Director Carolyn Blatman, who is unpaid, said the addition of social-emotional training is a direct result of seeing more students struggling with unstable housing conditions in East Palo Alto. The number fluctuates throughout the year, but most recently, 44 percent of Ravenswood students were identified as homeless, she said. Many others live in overcrowded homes with multiple families, are acting as parents to younger siblings or might not have the time or space to read quietly or get a good night's sleep. She said the organization has seen more and more students in recent years dealing with these kind of problems, which manifest in students acting out in the classroom.

All Students Matter has also brought in organizations like the counseling nonprofit Cassy and youth mental health nonprofit Children's Health Council to speak to volunteers.

The new training helps volunteers "instill patience and love for the kids," said Jeanette Kennedy, a volunteer who has become All Students Matter's director of strategic planning and marketing. "(If) they're not paying attention that day, they're yawning, they're tired ... (the volunteer has) to be able to just switch gears. Maybe instead of having them read to you if they're too tired that day, you read to them, and it's still literacy and it's still helping and it's still supportive."

The literacy training is now more like a workshop instead of a lecture and mirrors what the district provides to its own teachers. All Students Matter's part-time program manager, Keri Tully, a former teacher, developed the training in conjunction with Ravenswood's reading and writing specialists. (Tully is the only paid staff member at All Students Matter. The majority of the nonprofit's $50,000 budget funds her salary; the rest goes towards books for students, lunch for teachers, literacy kits and other materials.)

The volunteers, like All Students Matter's founders, are mostly parents from neighboring, higher-achieving and more affluent districts. The nonprofit also offers monthly "coffees" for volunteers to meet one another and ask questions. These events and the new training go a long way toward retaining volunteers, which in turn provides consistency to students and teachers.

Every Ravenswood teacher the nonprofit works with gets three trained volunteers each year and can ask them to support students however the teachers see fit. There is no pre-set agenda — flexibility Blatman said is unique in a community where outside organizations often "come in and say, 'We have the answer; here are your problems.'"

A teacher usually identifies a small set of students who are struggling and asks the volunteers to work with them one-on-one, targeting reading comprehension or finishing a homework assignment.

On Monday afternoon, four All Students Matter volunteers read quietly one-on-one with four Brentwood third-graders in a separate classroom. Many students the organization works with are reading below their grade level — a trend across the district, where 81 percent of students are below grade level in reading and 88 percent in math — and the volunteers work to bring them up to speed. Early on, the district asked the nonprofit to focus explicitly on reading.

But it's more than just tutoring. As the students turned pages of their books, volunteers casually peppered them with non-academic questions and comments, like how their Thanksgiving was.

The volunteer "may be the one consistent adult that they can talk to," Blatman said. "There's not an adult to sit quietly and listen (to them). That's a rare thing and we can give that."

All Students Matter (ASM) serves a dual purpose: supporting teachers by helping students. The organization aims to increase teacher retention, which Kennedy said has improved in recent years.

For many teachers managing large classrooms, the support is invaluable, said Ji Wook Choi, who teaches third grade at Brentwood. The volunteers provide a level of differentiation and one-on-one attention that she isn't always able to, she said.

"I wouldn't be able to do my job without ASM," she said. "They really push my kids forward."

This year, All Students Matter met its goal of being in all six Ravenswood schools at all grades, from transitional kindergarten through fifth grade. Blatman said the organization has no plans to grow beyond Ravenswood — she thinks it's most effective working locally — but there are plans to refine the program and expand within the district. A math pilot project will start in early 2018, and they're working more intensively with students who are reading just below grade level.

Despite the volunteers' intention to keep the organization small, Tully sees potential in other regions in the Bay Area where, similarly, an affluent community borders a less-fortunate one, like Emerald Hills and Redwood City, Oakland Hills and Oakland or Marin County and Marin City. She hopes others replicate their work.

"It would be easy for any other community to say, 'We sure would like to do what you're doing,' and we would happily support them," she said.

Apply for a Holiday Fund Grant

Nonprofits serving children and families may apply for funds by downloading our Grant Application Guidelines and Grant Application Form. Application deadline: 11:59 p.m. on Friday, January 13, 2023.

Make a donation
2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$10,000

AbilityPath$10,000

Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area
$10,000

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000

Canopy$5,000

CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000

DreamCatchers$15,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School
$7,500

EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education
$10,000

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000

Kara$15,000

Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

Peer Point$20,000

Peninsula Bridge$10,000

Peninsula College Fund$10,000

Peninsula Healthcare Connection$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$15,000

Peninsula Youth Theatre$5,000

Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation$10,000

Reading Partners
Silicon Valley
$10,000

ReadySetExcel$5,000

Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)
$5,000

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League
$7,500

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000

TheatreWorks$5,000

UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000

WeHOPE$15,000

WomenSV$7,500

Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center
$10,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000


As of November 29th, 77 donors have contributed $65,407 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

8 Anonymous2,960
Elaine Hah1,500
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Paul & Jane Millman250
Bruce Campbell*
Fran Codispoti250
Judy Kramer*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumbartner*
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Marian Adams100
Kroymann Family250
Carolyn Caddes*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Barbara Riper*
Katherine Bryant100
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Charlotte Johansen200
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Donna Silverberg100
John Keller100
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
The Dong Family200
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Andrea B. Smith100
Scottie Zimmerman100
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
Ted & Ginny Chu*
The Havern Family5,000
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Bill Reller*
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
Dorothy Deringer200
Barbara Klein*
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Janis Ulevich*
Theradep Technologies500
Gwen Luce and Family*
In Memory Of

David W. Mitchell*
Robert Spinrad100
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Ray Bacchetti300
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Gerald Berner300
Steven T. Ross100
Phil Zschokke200
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
In Honor Of

Joe Simitian*
Darla Tupper3,922
Businesses & Organizations

Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Palo Alto Business Park*
Arrillaga Foundation10,000
Angelo Family Foundation 5,000
Peery Foundation10,000

Past Holiday Fund Grant Recipients

2018-2019 | 2017-2018 | 2016-2017 | 2015-2016 | 2014-2015 | 2013-2014 | 2012-2013 | 2011-2012 | 2010-2011 | 2009-2010 | 2008-2009 | 2007-2008 | 2006-2007 | 2005-2006 | 2004-2005 | 2003-2004 | 2002-2003 | 2001-2002 | 2000-2001 | 1999-2000