Learning Leaders, previously known as the New York City School Volunteer Program, was the first program of its kind in the county and has been a national leader for more than four decades in using trained volunteers to help meet the educational needs of students in public schools. The goal of Learning Leaders is to aid New York City public school students in gaining the educational skills and self-esteem necessary to become successful learners and productive community members. Last year, 150,000 New York City public school students in 747 school received aid from more than 9,300 volunteers. In essence, one of every seven children enrolled in the public school system received instruction from a Learning Leader.
Each of the volunteers give at least two hours of their time per work to a school near their work or home. All of the volunteers are screened and trained, and they have ongoing support from professional field-based Training Specialist. Learning Leaders was incorporated in 1970 as a nonprofit organization, and about $2.5 million is raised annually to support the program.
Javier Santiago is a Learning Leader. Santiago never thought that doing public service in an elementary school would become an integral part of his life. However, his young daughter asked him to read the Learning Leader recruitment flier to her. When he read it and explained to her what it meant, she asked him to become a part of it. He committed to being a Learning Leader and tutors children in reading, spelling, and math. Being a Learning Leader is a priority for Santiago. He has adopted an entire class of children who will stay together through elementary school. Santiago began with them in second grade and will be with them until graduation. He works with children one-on-one who are in need of help. He is consistent with his visits and dedicated to the learning process. Throughout his time of service, he has impacted approximately 30 to 40 children.
Because of his volunteer work, Santiago is considering a career in teaching. Santiago is a Learning Leader and has affected the children attending New York City’s public schools. An Educational Testing Service Study showed that one-third of the students who received volunteer assistance because of academic difficulties achieved or exceeded grade-level requirements in reading or math within one year of participation in the program.
Javier Santiago just wanted to be more active with his children’s educational process. That has resulted in numerous hours of volunteer service along with a possible change of career into the education field. His giving heart and encouraging words have changed the lives of young children and in turn has changed his life also. He sees that just being there for a child and being a constant influence in their life can change their behavior and attitude towards school. Many children are looked at as having behavioral problems or learning difficulties, but most of them just need encouragement and special attention. They need to feel valued and special, and he is happy to be a part of that process.