When students with big potential are paired with a tutor who believes in them, incredible things can happen.

This year Steve McCallion, a volunteer in the San Francisco Education Fund’s Literacy Program, helped a first-grade student go from reading behind grade level to soaring past the expected benchmark. The student went up seven guided reading levels in a short span of time, according to his teacher.

“His confidence level was low,” teacher Vivian Hong said of the student. “He was very unsure of himself.”

After the pair started to get to know each other, Steve created lesson plans and worked with the student on his vocabulary, quizzing him on difficult words each week. Steve also took books home in preparation for his tutoring sessions.

“He became more and more at ease with me and, I think, more confident,” said Steve, a retiree who previously volunteered in the San Diego public school district before moving to the Bay Area three years ago. “He would [read] words that I would be just amazed — four syllable words. He figured them out … and then he’d remember them because I would quiz him.”

Steve continued to give the student more and more difficult books to read. He mastered them.

After “graduating” from working with Steve, the student is paying it forward by reading with classmates who are struggling.  “Now he’s gained confidence in his reading and is also helping his classmates in reading and writing,” Ms. Hong said.

Steve provides the same care and attention to additional students in Ms. Hong’s classroom during tutoring sessions twice a week. “He’s really built a relationship with the kids,” said Ms. Hong, who nominated Steve for one of our Distinguished Service Awards.

“They look forward to meeting with him and when he’s not here they go, ‘Where’s Mr. Steve?’ They know the schedule,” Ms. Hong said. “He’s such a wonderful and inspirational volunteer.”