One program, 25 members, four schools. Fast forward nearly 10 years and the makeup of Minnesota Reading Corps (MRC) is completely different than when it first began.
Piloted in 2003, MRC is an AmeriCorps program with the goal to ensure all students are given the opportunity to read at grade level by the end of third grade. Hoping to place more than 1,000 members in Head Start programs, preschools and elementary schools throughout the state, Minnesota Reading Corps is expanding its coverage to provide service to students at more than 600 sites in the 2012-2013 school year.
The program popped up in Plymouth last year at Zachary Lane Elementary School (4350 Zachary Ln.; 763.504.7300), where the additional academic support was greatly appreciated. “We don’t have a lot of support staff, like Title I or reading specialists, in our building, so it has been a good source of support for teachers and struggling students,” internal reading coach Jennifer Valiant says. A school can qualify for Title I services, like extra resources and support staff, if 80 percent or more of the student body falls below proficiency levels. While Valiant spends a portion of each school day working with small groups for remediation, she is also the instructional coach for the building, offering guidance on best teaching and intervention practices to the staff.
Nancy Brooks, a financial systems project manager turned MRC tutor, acknowledges the importance for students to have a support system around them to ensure academic success. “I am impressed with how much the teachers and staff truly care about helping their students succeed. It was easy to feel a part of the school and to be involved in the tremendous amount of caring that goes on for these students,” says Brooks, who served with MRC at Zachary Lane last year and is entering her second year.
Another positive aspect of having an MRC tutor at Zachary Lane is the individualized attention to each child’s needs. Each of the 15-plus students in Brooks’ caseload, for example, receives 20 minutes of one-on-one reading support every day. The time is spent doing different “interventions” tailored to the child’s needs, such as pacing, fluency, comprehension and more. Once weekly timed reading tests help Brooks know how much progress her students are making and when they can exit from the program. “This is huge in the world of interventions, or reading-assistance practices, since it really helps target the student’s struggles and helps them make great improvements,” says Valiant.
Not only do teachers at Zachary Lane encourage the students, but parents are involved, too. “The rate at which a student exits from the program depends on the motivation and amount of home support the child receives,” says Brooks. “It is impressive to see how quickly a child can improve when he reads with an adult each night at home.” Principal Randy Moberg also assists with positive reinforcement; he meets with each child as they prepare to exit the MRC program offering congratulations and encouragement for the future.
Brooks says she joined the organization because she wanted to help children “succeed in life by helping with the ever-so-essential skill of reading.” She is also currently completing graduate work to become a reading specialist.
In addition to the ultimate satisfaction that comes with giving students the chance to succeed, Minnesota Reading Corps tutors also receive a living stipend during their service and an education award of up to $5,550 upon completion. The education award can be applied to existing education loans or future educational opportunities. Ongoing professional development opportunities also exist through MRC and occasionally through the school placement. For more information, call 612.206.3030 or visit Minnesota Reading Corps' website.