DriveTime meets the needs of America Reads


Erik Ketcherside

America Reads site manager Deirdre Edwards and site supervisors Luisanna Granillo and Amir Williams show off one of the Nissan Versas DriveTime donated to their program.

Arizona has a teacher shortage while some students in budget-strapped, Phoenix-area schools need extra help with reading. Teacher candidates at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College rely on real-world teaching experience to prepare for their careers. It’s a perfect convergence of opportunity for partnership, except for one obstacle.

Metropolitan Phoenix is a big, big place. Some of its most-challenged school districts are on its distant margins, and getting to them can take a substantial amount of drive time.

Enter the third partner.

DriveTime is one of the largest networks of used car retailers in the U.S., with more than 140 dealerships in 27 states, primarily in the Midwest and South and on the East Coast. Their headquarters, however, are on the shore of Tempe Town Lake in ASU’s hometown. That’s also the base of operations for the DriveTime Foundation and DriveTime Charities, which is the third partner in an initiative to provide in-school reading tutors for students who need them.

The collaboration began with a conversation between Emily Burnett, who works in both the retail and charity divisions of DriveTime, and Chelsie Hancock, assistant director of development for Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

Burnett says, “We met to discuss ideas for partnerships that combine the expertise of both of our organizations.”

She says DriveTime was particularly interested in the college’s concept of itself as an Education Innovation Engine that unites partners in the community to bring about change in education. It’s a mission similar to DriveTime Charities’.

“When we see a need, we try to determine how we can help in a way that’s best for our company and our community,” Burnett says. “We like to be creative about it, because we’ve found there’s a lot we can do.”

Burnett and Hancock identified another point of convergence in ASU’s America Reads program, administered by Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. America Reads was established in 1996 by President Bill Clinton as a nationwide effort to create in-school, afterschool, weekend and summer tutoring programs in reading through community organizations and Title 1 schools.

For ASU students, America Reads provides a work-study or service-learning opportunity. In the 2015–16 academic year, 387 ASU students participated, providing 41,634 service hours to the community.

For ASU students in teacher preparation programs, becoming a reading tutor is an ideal resource for gaining teaching experience while being paid for work-study or earning service-learning credits toward graduation. But it may require something many students can’t provide: reliable transportation to school districts that are distant enough to be outside public transit routes.

“America Reads is a really good program that we didn’t know anything about until this year,” Burnett says. “Once we did, the idea for how we could get involved just snowballed.”

DriveTime donated three cars — late-model Nissan Versas — for use by America Reads tutors. The cars are valued at around $10,000 each, but DriveTime is also donating ongoing maintenance to keep them on the road. America Reads tutors will begin using the Versas this year to carpool to school districts that request the program. So will the program’s ASU coordinators, who regularly visit the tutoring sites.

“DriveTime assessed our transportation needs and provided an immediate solution,” says Hancock. “Now we can transport more trained ASU tutors to children in need of tutoring and mentorship.” She says the collaboration allows DriveTime, the college and ASU’s America Reads program to bring together their different areas of expertise and arrive at an innovative solution. “We all have the same goal, and that’s to improve education,” Hancock says.

Faith Wagner-Dunbar, coordinator for the ASU America Reads programs, says, “America Reads hires ASU students who demonstrate financial need and qualify for federal work-study. The financial constraints that make our tutors eligible to work may also prevent them from being able to get to the tutoring sites due to a lack of access to adequate transportation. As a result, the America Reads program provides a ride to service sites for tutors. These additional vehicles will be used to transport tutors to and from sites every day.”

Deirdre Edwards, a site manager for America Reads, confirms that DriveTime’s donation will boost participation. “Having the DriveTime vehicles included will make taking this job an easy decision,” Edwards says. “These vehicles will help us reach high-need students and make a long-term impact.”

Learn more about America Reads at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and how you can get involved.

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