A retired teacher and a third-grader at Madison Simis Elementary School are bonding despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kathy Tincombe of North Central has been working with Wylie Mulligan, 8, through the Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring Program since Wylie was in kindergarten. Through the program, Tincombe would meet one-on-one with Wylie weekly in school, where they would read together, play games, sing and chant to boost the boy’s reading, writing and communication skills. Oasis is a program that partners with the Madison Elementary School District to pair older adults with students needing literacy support.

Tincombe, who taught for 30 years in kindergarten, first and second grades, prepared lessons for Wylie to engage in when she came to the campus. They would play games focused on finding words, as well as using flash cards and Tincombe would read non-fiction books to him about animals, as he loves to learn about them. Wylie also would read aloud and practice chants and songs Tincombe created to help him learn.

“I took a shine to him right away,” Tincombe said. “I felt an instant rapport with him. He’s a delightful boy. He’s very intelligent and he is very interested in the world. He loves humor. We bonded right away. His comprehension is excellent because he is very bright. It was just the mysteries of learning to read that kind of stumped him at times.”

Since students have been taking classes from home online due to the Coronavirus crisis, Tincombe, 72, and Wylie have written each other letters and communicated through video chats to stay connected. Tincombe sent him letters with chants and songs to help him keep up with his reading and a picture of her new dog. She also texts Wylie’s mother, Meghan Mulligan, to keep in touch.

“We do Zoom calls and she can still send books through the mail,” Wylie said. “We write letters to each other.”

Meghan said she has seen Wylie improve greatly with his reading since Tincombe started working with him.

“We absolutely love it,” Meghan said. “We call her Miss Kathy. They have developed such a cute and special relationship. He likes telling her things.”

She said her daughter, Moira, 6, a first-grader, has been involved in the program, too, and writing letters to her tutor. While Wylie had been back in the classroom for in-person learning, as of press time, Tincombe said she will not be able to visit the school in person due to health issues that would make her more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Once a vaccine is approved and she can obtain it, she plans to return to in-person tutoring.

Other tutors also are writing letters to the children they work with during this pandemic. More than 100 tutors in the Madison district participate in the tutoring program.



  • Colleen Sparks

    A 25-year industry veteran, she's written for a variety of outlets including The Arizona Republic, East Valley Tribune, Money Talks News, and North Central News.