Minnesota Reading Corps & Minnesota Math Corps Blog

Why I Know Early Literacy Matters

By Lindsay Dolce, J.D.
Republished with permission from ServeMinnesota

Editor’s Note: Lindsay Dolce is the Chief Advancement Officer for Reading & Math Foundation, which advances the replication and expansion efforts for the proven Minnesota Reading Corps model and the Minnesota Math Corps model in new communities nationwide.

In 2002, when I started a new job as an attorney working on family law matters, I had no idea that nearly 20 years later I would leave the practice of law to pursue a career that allows me to support nearly 40,000 children each year with critical reading and math interventions.

Lindsay Dolce, J.D.

The path was not a straight line, in fact it was quite curvy but the common thread all along was that I wanted to be a voice for children who are not able to advocate for themselves. Over the last 20 years advocating for “littles” I have learned a few important facts. First, I have NEVER met a child who is not “ready to learn.” Children are born with an amazing sense of curiosity and adventure. They bring that with them when they show up at school for the first time, and what I know is that AmeriCorps members who choose to serve in school settings are able to turn that curiosity and sense of adventure into something exceptional … growth. The AmeriCorps members who choose to serve as a Reading Corps or Math Corps tutor often tell me that they weren’t quite sure what they were signing up for but it exceeded their expectations. Having a chance to support children in their learning journey and provide hope about their ability to achieve is the greatest gift a person can give a child.

I am honored to help lead an organization that invests in creating brighter futures for children by taking the science behind reading and math comprehension and using it to fuel the tools our tutors use every day in classrooms around the country with kids. For nearly 20 years I have observed a variety of nonprofits running different programs nationally. What truly sets Reading Corps and Math Corps apart is the single-minded focus on making sure what we do works and actually helps move the needle for kids age three to grade three in reading and fourth through eighth grade in math.

When I made the transition from being a family law attorney to working in the nonprofit world I heard the phrase “evidence-based interventions” a lot. To be honest, I didn’t have the foggiest idea why that was so important until I started to look at the outcomes of different programs. I don’t have a Ph.D., but I can see the difference between children scoring in the proficient versus not proficient categories. It befuddled me that so many kids were finishing kindergarten and third grade “not ready” to advance to the next grade. Especially when we know that if a child fails to learn how to read by third grade, that child is more likely to dropout of high school and face enormous challenges in life. ALL of this starts in the first years of a child’s life. Without a solid foundation, children are not able to make the critical transition from learning to read to reading to learn.

Advances in child development and educational psychology have converged on three compelling conclusions. Here is what science tells us:

  1. Early experiences are built into our bodies. Significant adversity can produce physiological disruptions or biological “memories” that undermine the development of the body’s stress response systems and affect the developing brain, cardiovascular system, immune system and metabolic regulatory controls. These physiological disruptions can persist far into adulthood.
  2. Nevertheless, the power of high-quality relationships and learning experiences can demonstrably improve children’s outcomes.
  3. In short – what happens during, and after, a child’s early experiences matters A LOT.

Here is what common sense tells us:

  1. Caring adults can provide young children with positive relationships, rich learning opportunities and safe environments.
  2. When those caring adults sign up for an AmeriCorps experience in Reading Corps and Math Corps, they are committed to helping children acquire two of the most fundamental learning — and life — skills that people need for success.
  3. The combination of caring adults who help children have high-quality learning experiences shouldimprove student outcomes.

It does! The evidence behind Reading and Math Corps proves it. Investments in evidence-based programs that demonstrate growth and strong outcomes for children are the closest thing to a golden ticket we can give our children.

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From High School to AmeriCorps: A Recent Grad’s Decision to Join Reading Corps

Republished with permission from ServeMinnesota

When Yailyn Moran graduated from high school last spring, she knew that college was in her future. She just wasn’t sure what she wanted to study or where she wanted to go.

So, she decided to take some time to figure it out while serving a good cause — young students in her hometown.

Yailyn, 19, signed up to serve in AmeriCorps as a Reading Corps tutor in Northfield, Minnesota, where she had recently graduated from Northfield High School.

Yailyn Moran, Reading Corps Tutor

“I chose to go into AmeriCorps because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for college yet ,” she said. “I’ve always loved people. I love kids. I have four siblings, so it’s always been easy for me to relate to kids, which made being an AmeriCorps member for Reading Corps a good choice.”

Inspiration to Major in Education

Yailyn said she had been wavering between a career in the medical field or education, and her placement at Sibley Elementary School has swayed her toward becoming a teacher. She said she has been especially inspired by the teachers at the school who talk to her about why they are passionate about their careers in education. Learning about their experiences and listening to their perspectives has been very helpful as she considers her college major, she said.

But the students are her greatest inspiration, Yailyn said. She tutors 15 children from Kindergarten through third grade every day, and she said she especially  enjoys her interactions with the Kindergartners.

“They absorb everything,” she said. “Seeing the progress they make in such a little amount of time is just amazing. Helping them achieve the goals they have to get to is fun and so rewarding – even though they might not always think it’s fun.”

She said that becoming a Reading Corps tutor just out of high school was nerve-wracking at first. However, after going through training and meeting the Sibley teachers, she felt more comfortable with her service. Plus, she said her time with the students is carefully planned and  scripted so that she can optimize the 20 minutes she spends with each of them. “Of course, the kids think 20 minutes is like, forever,” Yailyn said with a laugh.

The kids typically seem happy to see her when she comes to their classroom to pick them up for Reading Corps, which takes place in another room. “They are almost always like, ‘Yes! I get to go with Miss Yailyn!’”

‘It’s Really Going to Pay Off’

In addition to serving full-time in Reading Corps, Yailyn is also enrolled full-time in an online courses at Riverland Community College through the Northfield Community College Collaborative. As an Education Fellow in a new program started by Northfield Promise, her community college tuition and other expenses are paid by a grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. When she finishes two years of service and school, she said she plans to transfer to a four-year university and will use her AmeriCorps education credit to help cover those costs.

She said her service truly complements her coursework and future direction as an education major. However, she noted that not all Reading Corps members need to have an interest in a career in education. Really, she said, Reading Corps service just requires the right mindset.

“You really have to have patience, go in with an open mind,”
she said. “Not all the sites are the same or have the same resources. You have to be flexible and ready to put in the hours, but you also should realize that it’s really going to pay off in the end.”

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Darcie MooreFrom High School to AmeriCorps: A Recent Grad’s Decision to Join Reading Corps
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National Service Recognition Day: Celebrate Your Service!

 

Tuesday, April 2nd, is National Service Recognition Day. On this day, local leaders take to social media, organize special events and issue official proclamations celebrating and recognizing the incredible impact AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps members have on their community and the nation.

As AmeriCorps members, you tackle one of our country’s toughest challenges educating the leaders of tomorrow! As a show of appreciation for your service, local Minnesota leaders have planned special recognition events to celebrate your dedication to get things done for struggling students. All AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members and alum who served in the following cities are invited to attend.

 

Minneapolis

April 2nd: 1 – 3 p.m. – City Hall Rotunda, 350 S. Fifth Street

Mayor Jacob Frey and local leadership will be hosting a program to give thanks to those members and alum who made a lasting impact on the city of Minneapolis. Refreshments will be provided.

To RSVP, visit the event registration page.

 

St. Paul

April 2nd: 3 – 4:30 p.m. – Blackstack Brewing, 755 Prior Avenue North

Record your experience via Story Mobile and join Mayor Melvin Carter for special remarks during this happy hour event for members and alum who gave their time to serve the schools of St. Paul. Refreshments will be provided.

To learn more, see the event flyer and RSVP on Facebook.

 

Duluth

April 7th: 1 – 2 p.m. – Mayor’s Reception Room, City Hall, 411 West First Street

Celebrate both National Service Recognition Day and National Volunteer Week (April 7 – 13) with Mayor Emily Larson. Mayor Larson will honor those amazing contributions by members and alum who made a difference for the city of Duluth.

To register, email Cheryl Skafte at cskafte@duluthmn.gov or call 218-730-4334.

 

Did you serve outside these cities and want to find National Service Recognition Day events in your area? Email us at recruitment@servetogrow.org and we’ll get you more information!

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Reading Corps: Where I Learned How to Teach Reading

Guest Writer: Jon Gustafson, former Elementary Literacy Tutor at Highland Park Elementary in St. Paul, MN

It was 2015 and I was in the process of acquiring my K-6 elementary teaching license in Minnesota. I wanted to get experience in an elementary school as soon as possible, I just wasn’t sure how to get my foot in the door. That was until I heard about Minnesota Reading Corps.

I was assigned to Highland Park Elementary in St. Paul as a K-3 Reading Corps literacy specialist. Before the school year started, I attended the Reading Corps Institute—four days of intensive training in literacy interventions that would be my first introduction to evidence-based practices for teaching reading.

When I think back to that training, I marvel at how thousands of non-experts like myself were transformed into data-driven literacy practitioners in just one week, and that we were provided with research-based teaching skills that were not necessarily being taught in the graduate level coursework required to become a licensed teacher.

Throughout the school year I completed daily literacy interventions with 10-12 students and watched as my students experienced growth in the “Big 5” components to reading outlined by the National Reading Panel—phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. I was given monthly expert coaching from a seasoned literacy expert (a retired teacher) and used data-driven decision making to adjust individual student interventions. By the end of the school year, I knew I was a part of something special—and that the experiences and knowledge I gained through the Minnesota Reading Corps were an important part of my teacher training.

Until stumbling across the now infamous September 2018 Hard Words, Why aren’t kids being taught to read published by APM Reports and reported by Emily Hanford, I did not realize that my experience was so widely shared. In the piece, Hanford notes that “in 2016, the National Council on Teacher Quality…reviewed the syllabi of teacher preparation programs across the country and found that only 39 percent of them appeared to be teaching the components of effective reading instruction.” I myself was not explicitly taught the “Big 5” literacy components, nor trained in interventions to help struggling students in those areas—but I was in Reading Corps.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that Minnesota Reading Corps was by far the most useful preparation for teaching reading that I experienced. I hope that as the discussion about teacher preparation progresses, we can acknowledge it is unacceptable that more than 60 percent of American fourth-graders are not proficient readers. Research-based answers on how to solve this problem exist, and thanks to Reading Corps there is an effective model to follow and build upon.

 

Jon Gustafson served with Reading Corps during the 2015-16 school year and currently works as a 5th grade teacher at Hennepin Middle School in Minneapolis.

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National Service and American Democracy: New College Course

Interested in diving deeper into how national service supports democracy and community development? Wondering how you will continue to make an impact after your service term ends? Our partners at ServiceYear have teamed up with Arizona State University to offer a new online course geared specifically toward service-minded people like you.

This 3-credit hour course will explore how civic engagement has shaped American Democracy throughout history and how it continues to impact democracy today. You’ll explore what makes American democracy distinct, how to focus your civic engagement in light of government structures, what roles service and social engagement play in civil society, and how identity gives us insight into the mobilization of groups. At the conclusion of the class, you will have an idea of how to apply what you care about to a specific pathway to make a difference.

This learning opportunity is available for free or for academic credit. There is no prerequisite to enroll, and the course is taught at a college freshman level. If you’re budgeting for the expense, you have 12 months after you complete the course to pay the tuition ($400). You can also choose to use your education award to cover the cost (just indicate your intent to do so when you sign up for the course).

The course runs from March 12 through May 7, so be sure to apply by March 9 to participate!

View the course syllabus and the course calendar to see if this is the right opportunity for you or check out the FAQ page to learn more.

 

Note: Current members who are interested in applying should reach out to their Program Manager to discuss how this course could best fit into their service term.

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Coming Back to School

Guest Writer: Maria Jimenez Perez, Math Enrichment Tutor at Middleton Elementary in Woodbury, MN

I worked as a math and science teacher at the high school level for nine years. My family had just moved from Puerto Rico to Minnesota and we had decided I was not going to work the first year to help the kids with the transition. One day, I was volunteering at their school, and I saw a Math Corps sticker at the main office’s window. I was intrigued, took a picture, came home and did some research. I thought that it was a great opportunity—especially when I couldn’t teach in Minnesota since I didn’t have a teaching license. Plus, I had seen firsthand how my 9th graders lacked basic skills needed before taking algebra. I kind of saw it as a sign.

Now, I learn so much every day—my students are great teachers! I have discovered myself, my passions, my strengths and my areas of opportunity. But I think the best part about being a tutor with Math Corps is being witness of the incredible transformation these students make. They start off a little hesitant and reluctant, then they start to understand what we are doing, having fun with it, and their confidence levels go up the roof. At the end of the year they all say that they didn’t know math could be fun! Not only does their confidence improve, their attitude toward math changes—which I think is a great thing!

The relationships we build with our students are also so important. One time we were working on the box method for division in our sessions. One of my students asked if she could apply this method to the decimal division problems problems she was doing in class—they had a test that day and she was not feeling ready. I didn’t know if the process would work, but we tried it together and it did! A few days later I came to my desk, and her graded test was on it. She had gotten a B+. I think this was the first passing grade she had gotten in her math class. I thought the teacher had left it there for me to see, but when I asked her she said she had not left it—my student left it there for me to see! She was so proud of her grade, she brought the test over to me first instead of taking it home for her parents to see.

Serving as a Minnesota Math Corps tutor has been one of the most enriching opportunities I’ve had. You don’t have to be a teacher or have experience teaching/tutoring. Anybody with a will to help, to learn and to make a difference can do this! If you are not sure, just give it a try—you will not regret it!

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Why We’re Participating in MLK Day of Service

 

 

MLK Day of Service, a federal holiday created to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy of service, not only brings whole communities together, but also gives AmeriCorps members and alumni a unique opportunity to come together in the name of helping others.

For Dr. King, giving back meant strengthening the bonds of community and working toward something greater than ourselves. In honor of Dr. King’s vision, we asked some of the AmeriCorps and PeaceCorps alumni who now work to support Reading Corps and Math Corps what MLK Day of Service means to them. Their answers were inspiring:

 

Ryan Kjesbo-Johnson
“Serving others is a chance to open our hearts to the struggles of those around us. Some of the most transforming moments of my life have happened while serving others—whether it was teaching someone how to apply for
a job each day in AmeriCorps, to filling bags of food at feed my starving children with my kids, to teaching reproductive health skills in Uganda to young men or helping push strangers’ cars out of the snow. Serving others
opens our hearts, and creates a tapestry of understanding and connection that does not happen if we merely pass by each other. This tapestry of understanding and connection defines the beloved community that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about and lived out.

Service on this day honors a man, and a movement, that was driven on the backs of service to others. From driving neighbors to work during the Montgomery bus boycott, to helping comfort bodies broken by the batons on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, to church members hosting visitors of the movement in their homes, the Civil Rights movement was defined by sacrifice and service to others. On this day take time to honor the legacy of Dr. King by serving your neighbors, and let that spark of service create a wildfire of service throughout the year.”

 
 

Alison Zellmer
“When I reflect on the MLK Day of Service and why it is so important, this quote from Martin Luther King Jr. always comes to mind, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.’ I think one of the greatest ways you can share love to your community, your school, your neighbors, to anyone is through service. We honor Martin Luther King Jr. on this day by doing just that.”

Jenny Rangel
“I remember listening to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech when I was younger. His words and actions left a huge impression on me and opened my eyes up to the inequality in the world. He challenged the status quo and believed that everyone can be great and make an impact no matter how small. MLK Day of Service is a time to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and to give back to the community. I am participating to honor Dr. King’s legacy and do my part to make this world a better place.”

Megan Peterson
“I consider myself lucky to have grown up in a family that valued service to one’s community, and it has led me to always try to give back. I have had the opportunity to serve at soup kitchens, help build playgrounds, volunteer at the local food shelf and lead excited parents through Toys for Tots gift selection. Perhaps most impactful for me, I have served as a Reading Corps tutor helping to improve confidence and skills in children. The hugs, smiles and genuine happiness to see me every day that I experienced from these students will live with me forever. MLK Day of Service is an opportunity for me to be intentional about giving back and serving my community in new ways. I encourage you to join me in helping to make the world a better place this MLK Day.”

 

Andrew Mueller
“A day of service to me means showing as a community that we both celebrate the legacy of Dr. King and we recognize that there is a lot of work left to do to create a just and equitable society for everyone. I participate in service because ground level work is as important as systems change work and directly serving the community expands my perspective and often the best relationships are formed when serving others.”

 

Chris Erickson
“For me, MLK Day of Service is a chance to do something for others in a way that’s outside my day-to-day tutoring role. It’s a chance to find a service program, organization or opportunity that speaks to my passions, and give back to others. This was also a great way for me to connect with other AmeriCorps members, and people from the community at large who had similar interests and personal service passions. Now, years later I’m so grateful for my experiences in AmeriCorps as a Reading Corps member, and still find joy from taking part in meaningful service projects on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

 

 

If you’re interested in joining us for an MLK Day of Service project, check out our last blog post to view the full list of opportunities and learn more about getting involved.





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In Honor of Helping Others: MLK Day of Service

 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” No matter who you are or where you’re from, Dr. King believed that everyone had the ability to make a difference by helping others. In honor of his legacy and passion for serving others, MLK Day of Service is intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.”

As AmeriCorps members and alumni, you’ve committed your time to service. We hope you’ll join other Reading Corps and Math Corps members, alumni and staff Monday, January 21, 2019 for this truly special day of service in order to better our communities and the lives of those around us.

Below is a list of service activities Minnesota Math Corps and Minnesota Reading Corps will be participating in. If you’re interested in giving back during MLK Day of Service, please reach out to amy.kasch-vanek@servetogrow.org for more information.

Opportunities to serve:

8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast w/ reflection and discussion – SCSU – St. Cloud

8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. — Volunteer at the MLK march – Rochester Mayo Civic Center – Rochester

8:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast w/ reflection and discussion – LSS Centrum – Minneapolis

8:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast w/ reflection and discussion – Brooklyn Park Community Center – Brooklyn Park

8:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. — Volunteer at the MLK march – Washington Rec Center – Duluth

10:00 a.m. – noon — Painting inspirational MLK quotes – Miltona Community Center – Miltona

12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. — Packaging food with Second Harvest Heartland – Brooklyn Park

12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. — Holiday party for those in Memory Care – Rakhma Homes – Minneapolis

1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. — Painting inspirational MLK quotes – Miltona Community Center – Miltona

1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. — Birdfeeder Workshop – Home Depot – St. Cloud

*Limited registration

1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. — Volunteer opportunities at Minnesota State University, Mankato – Mankato

*Includes Dr. Suess Birthday/Read Across America, letters to the troops, cards for children at Children’s hospital

 

Not located near one of these activities or would like another way to participate? Tutors can also use MLK Day of Service as a day of reflection on Dr. King’s legacy and their own service experiences by completing activities in the web-based supplemental training bank.

Or find even more events happening around Minnesota here or through the InterCorps Council of Minnesota here.*

 

*Note: Current tutors – Be sure to check in with your Program Manager for hours guidance and to fill out an SOR before participating in outside service opportunities.

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Minneapolis School Breaks “High Priority” Barrier: Students Make Great Gains with Reading Corps Pilot Program

 

Current 2018-19 Scholar Coaches and staff

 

Exceptional things are happening at Nellie Stone Johnson Community School (NSJ) in North Minneapolis. Determined to help their learners succeed, NSJ has developed a multi-faceted approach to raising student achievement, with great success. Once deemed a “High Priority” school, a category which identifies the lowest-performing schools in the state, NSJ has now been removed from that list!

With the extraordinary commitment of their community partners and stakeholders (including Minnesota Reading Corps) NSJ has made incredible gains, including doubling 3rd grade reading proficiency in the span of three years. It was just a few short years ago that we began speaking with NSJ about developing a new kind of model to help better meet the needs of their students: the Total Learning Classroom (TLC) program. Now in its 4th year, the TLC program has grown to reach eight schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Cloud.

The TLC program is unique in that our tutors—called Scholar Coaches—are embedded in K-3 classrooms and partner closely with the teacher to support classroom instruction and deliver 1:1 and small group reading interventions to students. “The 1:1 connection between the Scholar Coach and the classroom teacher enables daily conversations to happen about how students are doing,” NSJ principal Amy Luehmann said. “It makes a big difference.”

This partnership also gives the Scholar Coach the opportunity to integrate the teacher’s lessons into their tutoring sessions, which gives students an added learning boost. “The TLC model really was beneficial in that I was able to see what was happening in the classroom and connect that to the tutoring interventions,” Colleen Denice-Rossiter, a third-year Scholar Coach at NSJ, said. “I benefited so much from watching [the students’] progress and also just watching their whole attitude change.”

So far this year, over 400 students have been served by Scholar Coaches and 80% of students with six or more weeks of tutoring are achieving at or above the rate necessary to reach grade level targets by the spring. With the continued success of students at NSJ, we hope to partner with more Minnesota schools so that students across the state can achieve such incredible results!

The TLC program will be recruiting Scholar Coaches for the 2019-20 school year starting in January. To learn more about the program or how you can get involved, contact Andrew Mueller.

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Reading Corps Alum to be Honored with January Spirit of Service Award

Spirit of Service Award honoree Kristi Jo Sanders

​“It’s just simple little things you can do to help make tiny little things better for your community.”

Kristi Jo Sanders began her Reading Corps journey during the 2009-10 school year at Lincoln K-8 Choice School in Rochester. After receiving her K-12 reading license and teaching preschool for a few years, Kristi Jo had her “aha moment” when she realized all her students weren’t experiencing that same connection with books at home and in school. As she was looking to continue teaching, she found that becoming a tutor not only opened up new professional opportunities for her, but also gave her a different perspective she could use in her future career. “As a classroom teacher you make a big impact, but as a tutor…the one-on-one chance you have to work with kids allowed me to develop a relationship with kids and get to know them as readers on a different level,” Kristi Jo said.

After her service, Kristi Jo was hired on as a Reading Specialist at Jefferson Elementary School, where she continues serving students as the Internal Coach. A major proponent of community involvement, Kristi Jo also works to collect school supplies for the Running Start program, heads up the school’s backpack program, and helped build a school kitchen for children in Tanzania, Africa—a service trip she hopes to replicate soon. Always working to educate parents and families on the importance of reading at home, Kristi Jo hopes to encourage others to give back, even in small ways: “It’s your chance to make a difference and it’s a difference that’s going to follow a kid through the rest of their life.”

For your continued impact in the classroom and beyond, it’s our privilege to honor you with the Spirit of Service Award. Thank you, Kristi Jo! If you’re interested in making a difference in your community, apply to become a Reading Corps tutor at www.readingandmath.net. Be sure to apply by December 14th to start in January!

 

About the Spirit of Service Awards

Launched in 2018 to celebrate alumni and commemorate the 15th anniversary of Reading Corps and 10th anniversary of Math Corps, The Spirit of Service Awards honor individuals who continue to embody the AmeriCorps pledge as alumni. Honorees were celebrated as part of Institute in August, October and January.

Recipients during the 2018-19 program year include: Sarah Warren, Mary Borrell and Lindsay Taute, James Magee and Kristi Jo Sanders.

 

 
 

 

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