By David Crary, AP National Writer
BALTIMORE (AP) — For 73-year-old Rosetta Handy, and the second-graders who dote on her, it's a 50/50 proposition, with winners all around.
"They help me as much as I help them," said Handy of her volunteer work as a tutor at Belmont Elementary School in a low-income West Baltimore neighborhood. "They give you energy. You learn psychology all over again."
Recent research indicates that Handy knows of what she speaks — documenting significant health benefits for the tutors.
Handy, who worked many years for the Social Security Administration, is in her fifth year with the Experience Corps, a program operating in 22 cities nationwide that trains volunteers over 55 to tutor and mentor elementary school students.
Roughly 2,000 volunteers currently work with about 20,000 students, but the Experience Corps — buoyed by positive feedback and encouraging research — hopes to double its scope within five years.
The program's concepts have seemed promising ever since it was founded as a pilot project in 1995, but new academic studies have validated the optimism that it's a boon for the volunteers as well as the students.
—A two-year, $2 million study completed in 2009 by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, involving 881 second- and third-graders in three cities, found that students with Experience Corps tutors made over 60% more progress with reading comprehension and sounding out new words than comparable students not in the program.
—Separate studies by Washington University and by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found that the tutoring led to measurable improvements for the volunteers — compared to adults of similar age and demographics — in physical activity and mental health.
One small-scale study reported in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences last year — which included sophisticated neuroimaging of 17 study members over 60 — including eight Experience Corps volunteers in Baltimore — suggested that tutoring young children in reading and math could delay or even reverse brain aging.