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Reading Corps at Jefferson

November 22, 2009
The Journal

Seeks to help children


successful readers

Article Photos

Staff photos by Steve Muscatello

Reading Corps member Robert Young (right) tutors a student at Jefferson Elementary School.

NEW ULM - Earlier this month, a Journal team observed Minnesota Reading Corps members "in action" at Jefferson Elementary School.

Moving along at a brisk pace, reading tutors worked one-on-one with students.

In some cases, students read an assigned text to the tutor, who timed them, while marking off challenging words. The tutor also checked comprehension, and asked a student to identify the main idea and predict what happens in a story.

Fact Box

Did you know?

From pre-school through third grade, children's time in school focuses on learning to read. From third grade forward, students are reading to learn. This important window in the life of a young learner is an opportunity to build a foundation of a lifetime.

However, results from the 2006 Minnesota Comprehensive assessment (MCA) show that 18 percent of the state's third-grade children are not reading at grade level. In school districts with high concentrations of poverty, these rates are significantly higher. If this performance remains consistent in the future, approximately 65,000 children age three to grade three are at risk at not reading at the expected levels. The Minnesota Reading Corps was created in response to this need.

Did you know?

In 2003-04, the Minnesota Reading Corps engaged 23 members in four sites. In 2009-2010, it exceeded its recruitment goal and has enlisted and placed a record 555 members in 161 pre-school sites and elementary schools across the state.

More about the Minnesota Reading Corps:

The Minnesota Reading Corps is a statewide initiative to help every Minnesota child be a successful reader by the end of third grade.

Minnesota Reading Corps members commit to a year of service that begins in August. In addition to receiving valuable hands-on experience, MRC AmeriCorps members earn up to $4,725 to pay for college or to pay back federal student loans, a modest living allowance and for full-time members, health insurance. Members can also defer federal student loans while they serve. MRC members surveyed frequently report that their career plans have been positively influenced by their service.

There are four different member positions in MRC. A description of each position is listed below.

Classroom Member - Community Corps

Age Group: PreK

This member works in a classroom of children ages 3-5 to develop children's early literacy skills in preparation for kindergarten. The member collaborates with the classroom teaching staff to enhance daily literacy opportunities and conducts literacy assessments to ensure children are on track to read by the end of third grade.

Classroom Member - Professional Corps

Age Group: PreK

This member is a current employee that works with children ages 3-5 to develop their early literacy skills in preparation for kindergarten. The member enhances daily literacy opportunities and

conducts literacy assessments to ensure children are on track to read by the end of third grade.

Literacy Tutor

Age Group: K-3

This member works one-on-one with K-3 children who need help learning to read. The member uses prescribed literacy interventions and conduct weekly progress monitoring to ensure the student is on track to read at the end of third grade.

Volunteer Coordinator

Age Group: K-3

This member serves one to four elementary schools and is responsible for recruiting, training and supporting community volunteers who dedicate time directly or indirectly helping young children to read.

In other cases, tutors worked on letter/sound correspondences, or word blending, or had students read "nonsense words" - strings of letters that look like a word - to ensure a child is actually reading rather than memorizing words...

This of course, is just a sampling of intervention techniques - the research-based interventions also include, for example, "phoneme blending," "duet reading," "newscaster reading," "pencil tap," "stop and go" reading...

The techniques help picture a program that is both science-based and individually-oriented.

The Minnesota Reading Corps is a statewide initiative designed to help every Minnesota child become a successful reader.

The program matches trained members and community volunteers with children from age 3 to third grade who are at risk for not reading at grade level.

Reading Corps members either serve directly with children to provide individualized literacy instruction, or recruit community volunteer tutors to work one-on-one with children.

The Minnesota Reading Corps was piloted in 2003-04 and served to help Head Start children improve their emergent literacy skills in preparation for kindergarten. The model of the program proved to be effective. In 2005-06 the program expanded to serve children in kindergarten through third grade. Since the pilot year, the results continue to improve, and the program has expanded to serve more children, age three to grade three, across the state.

At Jefferson, Robert Young, Cindy Alfred and Benjamin Hamborg work with students on one-on-one basis. They meet with a student daily for 10-15 minutes, providing targeted interventions.

(In addition, also in New Ulm, Tanya Crowder is working with students at Minnesota Valley Action Council Head Start.)

Each tutor at Jefferson meets with about a dozen children. The groups could fluctuate - it's an open door program that revolves around specific needs.

The tutors can be seen in different areas of the school - different classrooms, or the Title I room.

Reading Corps members receive extensive training - both before they start and monthly during their service - that equips them with the most effective literacy instruction methods.

Continuous training and monitoring is provided both by their organization and on-site.

Dawn Portner, a teacher at Jefferson, has been assigned as on-site coach.

She guides the tutors professionally, also providing assessments and "integrity checks." (Portner, as well as the tutors, were instrumental in explaining the program.)

Jefferson Principal Pam Kirsch invited the organization in, after submitting a successful application.

Kirsch sees the Reading Corps efforts as an integral part of several coordinated efforts at the school to ensure students' reading success.

"The children that qualify to work with Reading Corps members do not qualify for other reading intervention programs," Kirsch notes.

So the program fills a niche of its own.



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