BALTIMORE — Programs such as Experience Corps, in which volunteers over 55 tutor and mentor elementary school students, are yielding benefits for the students and the volunteers, according to research.
Roughly 2,000 Experience Corps volunteers work with about 20,000 students in 22 cities nationwide, and program officials hope to double its scope within five years.
A two-year, $2 million study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that students who have Experience Corps tutors had about 60 percent greater progress with reading comprehension and sounding out new words than comparable students not in the program. The study, completed last year, involved 881 second- and third-graders in three cities.
Separate studies by Washington University and by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found that the tutoring led to measurable benefits for the volunteers, who showed improved physical activity and health compared with adults of similar age and demographics.
One small-scale study reported in the Journal of Gerontology-Medical Sciences last year included sophisticated neuroimaging of 17 study members over 60, including eight Experience Corps volunteers in Baltimore. It suggested that tutoring young children in reading and math could delay or even reverse brain aging.
The lead researcher, professor Michelle Carlson of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is launching a far larger, multiyear study to pursue these preliminary findings. The study focuses on the same population that makes up a majority of the tutors in Baltimore — predominantly African-American women, with modest incomes and an above-average risk of various health problems.
“Ideally, we’d like to see if this mentoring program reduces the risk for dementia and other costly diseases,’’ said Carlson. “We’ll be looking at whether we can recalibrate their rate of aging — and show that people at the greatest health risk are the ones who can benefit most immediately.’’