Seven-year-old Kori Webster listened intently Feb. 7 in her first-grade classroom at Kae Avenue Elementary School as a tutor gave her guidance in reading.

But the tutor wasn't in the classroom with her.

Rather, Kori was reading to a volunteer tutor miles away at Cardinal Health in Dublin.

Kori and other first-grade students at Whitehall's Kae Avenue are benefiting from a growing national program called TutorMate.

This is the first year for the program in Whitehall City Schools and it is only at Kae Avenue, said Ty Debevoise, director of communications and marketing for the district.

Dan Weisberg, national director of TutorMate, said Whitehall is the only district in central Ohio currently employing TutorMate.

"They reached out to us," Weisberg said.

In some instances, districts reach out to Tutormate, but the program also focuses on recruiting corporate partners who in turn contact districts to share the program, he said.

Weisberg said TutorMate has offered its program to other central Ohio districts, but Whitehall is the first to use it.

Established 12 years ago under the umbrella of the nonprofit organization Innovations for Learning, TutorMate connects volunteers with students using an Internet connection.

The tutor and students do not see one another but speak to each other and use a shared computer screen to give instruction and participate in interactive exercises.

The program has a twofold benefit for students, Weisberg said, by improving children's comprehension and reading skills in an objective way that can be quantified on state tests, but also in a subjective manner by improving self-esteem and confidence.

The program also allows volunteers to tutor in a convenient way from their own places of employment, Weisberg said.

The district identifies first-grade students who need "targeted intervention" to participate in the program, said Sarah Gee, a teaching assistant at Kae Avenue and the C. Ray Williams Early Childhood Center.

The two schools share Whitehall's Early Literacy Campus, where only preschool children and kindergarten and first-grade students attend.

"Students read to their tutors and sometimes partner-read, with each taking turns," Gee said.

Janelle Hunter, a first-grade teacher at Kae Avenue, said TutorMate is a great benefit for her students.

"It's great, especially for a struggling reader," Hunter said. "While I'm working with other kids, they can also be mastering (reading with the tutor) and getting multiple reading activity time."

About 100 volunteers participate in central Ohio's TutorMate program, one of 26 in urban areas across the United States.

Almost all are from Cardinal Health or JPMorgan Chase, Weisberg said -- but Whitehall schools wants to change that.

The district is working to identify corporate partners within the Whitehall community, such as Alliance Data, to strengthen ties between the district and the community, Debevoise said.

For now, Kori is working with Isabella Bovenzi, 28, an employee at Cardinal Health.

"It's a lot easier for me to volunteer because I can do it from work and it makes a big difference for kids," said Bovenzi, who was invited to participate in the program by a co-worker.

Bovenzi said helping her nieces and nephews learn to read inspired her to volunteer.

"What I do for them, I wanted to do for other kids, too," she said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo