Mentor Frequently Asked Questions

Thank you for your interest in volunteering as a mentor with Read Ahead!We hope this page provides some helpful information about Read Ahead’s program, mentor application, and mentor onboarding process. If you have any questions that aren’t answered here, please feel free to reach out to our team at We also encourage you to check out this info session with Executive Director, Kristen Baldwin, for an overview of this year’s program.

Page updated: August 2021

About Read Ahead

What is Read Ahead?

Read Ahead is dedicated to helping New York City youth strengthen the literacy and social-emotional skills they need to thrive in school and beyond. 

During weekly Read Ahead sessions, mentors (volunteers from our corporate partners) and mentees (children from our NYC public school partners) read together, discuss books and their lives, and engage in fun and educational games and activities. Read Ahead sessions are designed to help children grow their confidence, love of reading, literacy skills, and other skills essential for success.

How old are the mentees?

We work with children in 1st through 5th grade, about ages 6-12. 

How are mentees selected?

We work closely with our public school partners and with families to identify children who would benefit from participation in Read Ahead. Students are recommended by partner school staff because they would benefit from the one-on-one support Read Ahead mentors provide. 

Common reasons why mentees enroll include the opportunity to build their literacy skills, gain confidence in reading and speaking, develop a love of reading, and gain exposure to English (for those learning English as a new language). 

Educators are particularly concerned about student literacy skills after more than a year of disrupted and unfinished learning due to the pandemic, and we are continuing to work closely with our school partners to identify and enroll children in need of literacy support for the 2021-22 school year.

What happens during a Read Ahead session?

A typical virtual session may look something like this:

Once you join the Zoom session along with around 10 mentor-mentee pairs, you will be greeted by your Program Coordinator, a Read Ahead staff member who provides support and manages logistics for Read Ahead at a particular partner school.  

After a short greeting with the full group, the Program Coordinator will move mentor-mentee pairs into breakout rooms. Most of your time during Read Ahead will be spent in your 1:1 breakout room. 

During your time together, you and your mentee will read together, have conversations, and participate in activities designed to boost literacy and social-emotional skills. These could include reading together from a book of your mentee’s choosing using Epic, an online library, completing a session in BookNook – an online literacy platform with guided literacy games and activities, or doing another activity provided by your Program Coordinator. 

Your Program Coordinator is available throughout the session to pop into your 1:1 Zoom room to support you as needed. Toward the end of your session, your Program Coordinator will bring everyone back together in the main room for a brief closing activity.

Time commitment & logistics for volunteers

What is the time commitment to volunteer as a Read Ahead mentor?

Mentors may sign up to mentor weekly or every other week during the school year (October – June). Each virtual session is 45 minutes long.

We ask that mentors log into Zoom about 5 minutes prior to their session start time whenever possible so that you can make the most of your time with your mentee.

What if I don’t feel confident in my ability to commit to Read Ahead every week?

You can sign up as a co-mentor! Co-mentoring is when 2 mentors work with the same child and alternate weeks throughout the year. Co-mentoring is a great option for volunteers with busy schedules who would prefer a bi-weekly, rather than weekly, commitment.

Our co-mentoring option reduces the time commitment for each co-mentor. It also means that if your schedule changes and you need to miss your scheduled session in a particular week, your co-mentor may be able to cover for you so your mentee doesn’t miss any Read Ahead!

Can I choose my co-mentor?

You have the option to either partner with a specific co-mentor, typically a colleague from your company, or ask Read Ahead to pair you with a co-mentor. 

If you have someone in mind, you can specify your co-mentor’s name and email in your mentor application. Each co-mentor must submit a mentor application and coordinate their session days and times in order to co-mentor the same mentee.

If you would like to co-mentor but don’t have a specific co-mentor in mind, we will match you with one. Please note that it may take a bit longer to make your match, as we work to identify someone with a compatible schedule.

Do you require a full year or multi-year commitment?

Mentors must commit to participating for one full school year. We highly encourage you to consider mentoring your mentee for multiple years, which increases the impact of your mentoring relationship.

You have the opportunity to renew your commitment annually. We highly encourage you to consider volunteering for multiple years, which increases the impact of your mentoring relationship.

Where does mentoring take place?

Read Ahead will take place virtually via Zoom for the 2021-22 school year.

Children need consistent support not more than ever. With the success of last year’s virtual program, and ongoing concerns about health and safety, we have made the decision to remain fully virtual this year. Although the NYC DOE is planning for all students to return to in person learning this fall, we believe that our virtual program remains the best option to maintain consistent, safe, fun, and educational Read Ahead sessions this year.

When does Read Ahead take place?

Read Ahead sessions are held once weekly during the school year, from October through June. 

In 2021-22, most 45 minute sessions will take place weekday afternoons, Monday – Friday between 3:00 pm and 5:30 pm. We also plan to have some sessions available Monday – Friday between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm, and Saturday mornings from 10:00 AM –  1:00 PM.

You will have the option to let us know which available time works best for you. Please see below about our co-mentoring option if you are unable to make a weekly commitment.

How will I know when my specific Read Ahead session time is?

We are working to finalize schedules with our school partners in September, 2021. We anticipate reaching out to our mentors in late September or early October to share these times with you, and ask you to share your availability.

For returning mentors hoping to continue with their mentees from last year, we will do our best to align your schedules so that you can stay together. Please note that because of the complexity of this fall’s return to school buildings, our mentees may not have as much flexibility in their schedules as they have had in prior years. Thank you in advance for your flexibility and support with this process!

What if I need to miss a Read Ahead session?

We request that you plan to attend most of your scheduled sessions, since consistent attendance is beneficial to your mentee. 

We understand that some absences may be unavoidable, and ask that you notify Read Ahead with as much advance notice as possible if you know that you will be unable to make a particular session. Your Read Ahead Program Coordinator will be able to advise you on next steps.

Unfortunately, in most cases we are not able to accomodate a one-time schedule change to a different day / time. Please contact your Program Coordinator to ask if rescheduling is a possibility. If you have a co-mentor, you may be able to ask them to cover the week you are absent so that your mentee does not miss a week. 

What if I move or change jobs during the school year and am no longer able to mentor?

We understand that these things happen! If you anticipate this is likely for you, this may not be the right time to become a Read Ahead mentor. 

If your circumstances change unexpectedly during the year, we encourage you to finish the school year with your mentee if possible. If that’s not feasible, it’s important to let your Program Coordinator know as soon as possible so that you can plan for at least one last virtual session with your mentee. This final session together provides an opportunity for a healthy closeout and goodbye, and give you an opportunity to let your mentee know that you will need to end early.

Becoming a volunteer mentor: Requirements, application, & onboarding

Who can become a Read Ahead mentor?

Employees of our partner organizations. To see the full list, please click here

All employees who are interested in making a difference in the life of a child and are able to make the time commitment are encouraged to apply! No prior experience working with children is required. We especially welcome Black, Latinx, Asian, and male mentors as we strive to increase our pool of mentors who share demographics with many mentees.

Are you currently accepting new volunteers?

Employees from Read Ahead’s partner organizations are invited to apply to become mentors for the 2021-22 school year. 

We expect this year’s application to be open from late August 2021 – early October 2021. Once we have filled all of our available volunteer openings for the year, we will close the application and begin accepting volunteers onto our waitlist.

Please click here for this year’s mentor application, which is required for both new and returning mentors.

Is there any experience required to become a Read Ahead mentor?

No – Read Ahead provides all of the training and support you need to make a difference.

What are the steps required to sign up to become a Read Ahead mentor? 

All mentors (including returning mentors) must complete all the steps in our volunteer onboarding process. These include:

  • Complete a mentor application
  • Pass a criminal background check
  • Complete online on-demand training
  • Confirm your availability and schedule prior to the program start date so that you may be matched with a mentee

Do I have to complete and pass a background check? What if I am a returning volunteer?

All mentors (new and returning) must complete and pass an annual criminal background check before they can begin mentoring for the year. The background check process is quick, confidential, and secure. Read Ahead has selected an approved background screening provider, Sterling Volunteers, to conduct background checks. The cost of the background check is covered by Read Ahead, with an option for mentors to support our work by covering the cost yourself.

Is training provided and/or required?

Yes, training is required for all new and returning mentors. 

This year’s training will once again be offered as a series of online and on-demand modules that can be completed at your convenience. 

Mentors will be notified when our training becomes available in September. All modules must be completed prior to the anticipated start of the program in late October. Training is self-paced, and should take around 2 hours to complete.

I attended training last year – am I still required to complete it again?

Yes. We update our training annually and ask that all mentors, returning or new, complete the online training. 

What is involved in the matching process and how long does it take?

Our mentor-mentee matching process begins in September of each school year and lasts several weeks.

During this time, the Read Ahead team confirms availability for mentors and mentees, and then matches mentor-mentee pairs for the year. The background information we collect during the application process informs our matches. Matches are made based on schedule and overall compatibility. 

Whenever possible, we aim to keep mentor-mentee matches together year over year.

Please note that mentors are not eligible to be matched with a mentee until they have completed their application, background check, and confirmed your scheduling availability. Mentors are strongly encouraged to also complete training prior to matching.

When will my session day / time be confirmed? When is the first day of Read Ahead?

Read Ahead staff will confirm your specific day / time during the matching process. We aim to match most mentor-mentee pairs in early October. 

Your exact first day will depend on your mentee’s school schedule, and co-mentoring schedule. Your Program Coordinator will confirm your first scheduled day during the matching process. We aim for most mentor-mentee pairs to begin sessions in late October.

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