The day that Minnesota Reading Corps asked me to join their 2010-2011 corps was the day that changed my life. My 11-month service commitment began on August 1 of last year and is rapidly coming to an end. I know from their weekly test scores that I’m changing the lives of my students at Hillside Elementary in Cottage Grove, but my students are changing mine more than they know.
Minnesota Reading Corps (MRC), an AmeriCorps program, is a statewide initiative to ensure every child in the state becomes a successful reader by the end of third grade. As K-3 members, we commit to providing daily one-on-one tutoring sessions with students who read just below grade level proficiency; various interventions are also available for preschool-aged students. When I accepted the offer last summer, I had a vague notion of what my position would be like but nothing—not even the three intensive days we spent at Institute Training in August and hours of reading and practicing the interventions—could fully prepare me for this service commitment until I spent some time getting to know my students.
“It is true with this position that until you experience it for yourself, you don’t really understand what the typical day will hold,” says Sheila Kennedy Brown, full-time MRC tutor in her first year at Liberty Ridge Elementary School. The typical day for a full-time tutor involves performing at least fifteen 20-minute interventions, a rushed lunch or prep time, and handling serendipitous issues that arise while working with our students, like runny noses and post-lunch sugar highs.
Three years ago, Woodbury, Newport and Pullman elementary schools piloted the MRC program for the South Washington County school district. Last year it was adopted in two early childhood sites plus Bailey, Hillside, Pine Hill and Royal Oaks elementary schools. Now in its third year in the district, MRC is also housed in Liberty Ridge and Cottage Grove elementary schools. “Having MRC in our school has been fantastic,” says Mike Moore, principal at Liberty Ridge. “We have seen great growth from the students who are in the program. Parents have been supportive of our efforts and teachers have welcomed the additional support. We are extremely fortunate to have this resource in our school.”
Full-time members are expected to fulfill 1,720 hours of service by the end of our term; half-time members serve 920. Most of those hours come from serving at our sites (Brown also co-coaches a fourth grade Battle of the Books team and a second grade Destination Imagination group), but several hundred additional hours must be earned by volunteering in our community.
The most important and rewarding moments come when the students admit their newfound love of reading. Many of the students that MRC tutors work with lack the necessary confidence to improve their skills. Once weekly, students are tested for one minute to monitor how many words they are able to read in a given passage. I cannot help but smile when my students show improvement not only in their words per minute, but also in their stronger, more secure speaking voices. “Seeing the smiles on the students’ faces when they work hard and are able to see and know for themselves that their fluency is improving is heartwarming,” Brown says.
The hope is that every student, no matter what difficulties they face, will become a successful reader by the end of third grade. The hard work, dedication and patience of Minnesota Reading Corps tutors are making that happen, one 20-minute intervention at a time.
For more information about MRC, to make a donation, or learn how to become a part of the 2011-2012 corps, visit minnesotareadingcorps.org.