Minnesota Reading Corps & Minnesota Math Corps Blog

Success Starts Early – Our New School Readiness Pilot


It’s never too late to learn something new—or too early. That’s certainly the case for preschool students participating in our new School Readiness pilot rolling out for the 2018-19 school year.

Studies show that a child’s math ability before starting school is a strong indicator of achievement as they grow. Early math both helps them to get ready for kindergarten and gets them on the right trajectory for school success later on. Despite the strong connection between preschool math skills and later academic success, only about six percent of time in the average early childhood classroom is devoted to math-related activities.

In Minnesota, the need for those early math skills is especially prevalent, as 32 percent of Minnesota’s third grade students failed the state math test in 2017—a rate which increases to 49 percent for low income families and to 63 percent by the time students reach 8th grade.

In order to help close this achievement gap and help start our littlest learners off on the track to success, we’ve introduced the School Readiness pilot. Made possible through generous support from the PNC Foundation, this early learning initiative combines PreK literacy interventions with introductory math skills into one curriculum.

“The interventions are based off our PreK model, so when tutors work with the whole class, small groups and one-on-one, we’ve added math components to all three,” explains Program Pilots Manager Alison Zellmer. “It’s a more holistic approach to making sure they have all the early literacy and math skills they need for success.”

Preschool Early Learning Specialists provide opportunities to learn math all day long through “math talk” (or vocabulary), reading math-focused books, fun and engaging targeted interventions and simple math activities families can use at home. Each activity exposes children to early math language and ideas, which ensures they’ll be ready for more difficult math concepts as they start school.

“There aren’t a lot of people in the country doing a PreK math program like we are. Tutors are coming in on something groundbreaking,” says Zellmer.

In addition to the education award and biweekly living allowance, Preschool Early Learning Specialists will be eligible to receive a bonus of up to $1,050 per year of service. They’ll also have the opportunity to use brand new curriculum and help shape how our PreK program looks in the future!

Interested in getting in on the ground level of this innovative program? We’re looking for 40 Preschool Early Learning Specialists to serve in schools across the Twin Cities Metro. Discover opportunities near you or contact Program Pilots Manager Alison Zellmer to learn more.

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New Member Benefits Starting 2018-19!


Living in the Twin Cities can sometimes wreak havoc on your budget. With the high cost of living, those daily expenses can add up faster than expected. But should you have to choose between serving your community and keeping up with your finances?

We at Minnesota Reading Corps and Minnesota Math Corps say “no!” That’s why starting this 2018-19 school year, we’re piloting new benefits aimed at making managing your budget just a little bit easier.

Members serving in the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul can now receive up to $2,000 in housing assistance! The benefit will be paid biweekly (every two weeks) and no sign-up is required. Most metro members will also qualify for reduced transit fares through a new collaboration with Metro Transit’s Transportation Assistance Program. Members will pay $1.00 per ride (vs. the $2.25- $3.25 standard fare) using TAP cards that will be distributed during Institute.

Our hope is that these new benefits will help offset the higher cost of living in the Twin Cities and allow those who would like to make a difference in their communities serve without financial worry.

“I think these new benefits are great! I was already planning on taking the bus when the weather gets cold, so the discount for Metro Transit will save me a lot throughout the year!” says Reading Corps tutor Chelsea Smith of Saint Paul. “The additional housing assistance also makes choosing service over work easier when it comes to finances.”

While these new benefits do not currently apply to 3 day/week members or those serving in Reading Corps pilots, we are working hard to study the impacts of these benefits with an eye toward possible continuation and expansion in the future.

If you have any questions about how these new benefits pertain to you, please email us. We’d love to hear your feedback!


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Finding the Right Fit

Colleen Denice-Rossiter, Scholar Coach at Nellie Stone Johnson Elementary School in Minneapolis, MN

Throughout her life, Colleen Denice-Rossiter has always focused on serving others. Before becoming a full-time parent, she served with Peace Corps, taught kindergarten, became certified as a Certified Nursing Assistant and in American Sign Language, worked in the homecare field, and was a classroom volunteer. After her children were grown, she was eager to get back into the classroom and see if it was the right fit. Already familiar with AmeriCorps—and the importance of reading—Colleen thought she’d give Minnesota Reading Corps a try. As a K-3 Scholar Coach, she gets to experience the classroom environment while also serving her community.

The Scholar Coach position supports both the teacher and the students in the classroom. This way, students benefit from both individualized tutoring and the presence of another caring adult in the classroom. The teacher can count on the Scholar Coach to help kids that could benefit from some extra attention. The Scholar Coach integrates the teacher’s lessons into their tutoring sessions and collaborates with the teacher to decide how best to support students. Colleen also works one-on-one with students for 20 minute sessions. “I feel like the [Scholar Coach program] is beneficial because I am able to see what is happening in the classroom and connect that to the interventions. I had a very supportive relationship with the teacher,” Colleen explains.

Colleen’s favorite aspect of being a Scholar Coach is building relationships with the students. “I realize when I’m in the presence of kids that I know so much less than I thought I did. Everybody has something to teach me as well,” she says. “When we read together, they see their success and realize it’s going to help them with other topics. They feel proud as things get easier for them.”

Out of many great kids, one student’s story was especially memorable. M started out the school year with reading skills below grade average. With Colleen’s help, she was reading 90 words per minute by May and her mom jokingly asked who was teaching her to read so well because she was reading her mom’s text messages!

“I think that the Scholar Coach position is fabulous…Learn from the people, take in as much as you can, give as much as you can, and listen. I benefited so much from watching [students’] progress and also just watching their whole attitude change.”

Colleen’s classroom experience was everything she hoped for, and she is now not only returning for another year of service, but also using her Education Award to obtain a reading specialist license and pursue a career in education.

If you would like to join a school community as a Scholar Coach or would like more information please email Andrew Mueller or check out our available positions.

Forward this opportunity to a friend or apply now! Be sure to apply by July 25th to start in August.

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A Jump Start for Learning – Reading Corps in Family Child Care


Today, one in every three K-3 students in Minnesota is struggling to read. That’s 100,000 kids—a staggering number. Even more staggering is that 80% of brain growth occurs before age three, and during the first few years of a child’s life more than 1 million neural connections are formed every second. So when traditional school learning doesn’t begin until age five or six, how might we reach children during these early stages of development to jump-start learning and help close the opportunity gap? Our solution: Reading Corps in Family Child Care.

“We put a stake in the ground 10 years ago that we wanted Reading Corps to reach every child in Minnesota that needed it,” explains Audrey Suker, CEO at ServeMinnesota. “You can imagine that if every child care provider in communities had access to this, the whole community would start to feel different.”

How It Works

Tutors travel between three Family Child Care sites a week, visiting two each morning, to provide around 90 minutes of early literacy interventions. Working with children anywhere from infancy to age five, tutors conduct whole group, small group, and one-on-one sessions based on an adapted PreK model. Tutors also partner with the provider to lead instruction, and they work closely together to support strong student outcomes. Providers also participate in rigorous professional development including training and coaching to help them succeed.

Why Serve?

Tutors have the opportunity to serve outside the classroom in their communities and build valuable relationships with providers and families. They also are able to work with mixed ages and potentially whole sibling groups who wouldn’t be able to learn together in a traditional school environment. Given Family Child Care tutors travel to multiple locations and take on additional leadership and organizational tasks, tutors serve part time but receive an increased living allowance.

“If you are interested in increasing your leadership and teaching skills, as well as having a strong impact on student outcomes, this innovative pilot is a great choice for your service year,” says Becky Scott-Rudnick, Director of Family Child Care.

What’s Next?

In order to meet the needs of children across the state, Reading Corps in Family Child Care is now expanding to Bloomington for the first time for the 2018-19 school year. A total of three members are needed in Bloomington, as well as 13 in St. Paul and Minneapolis, and six in St. Cloud.

If you’re interested in taking your service outside the school or would like more information, please contact program manager Nou Thao.

Want to learn more? Check out this Pioneer Press feature to read more about one tutor’s experience serving with Reading Corps in Family Child Care and how she makes a difference for children in her community.

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Making a Major Impact

Guest Writer: Michael Gilleo, Math Enrichment Tutor at Northeast College Prep in Minneapolis, MN

On a Friday morning in late March, I walked into my classroom and found a stack of handmade thank-you cards on my desk. On top of the pile was a sticky note with “From your 5th graders” and a heart scribbled on it. I only work with six kids from 5th grade, but all 24 students in the class had made me a card. Except for the students in Math Corps, the only interaction I have with their class is during the last hour of the school day on Fridays. During this time I hang out in their classroom, helping with projects or playing games. I later talked to their classroom teacher and she told me that the whole class had elected to make me cards during recess. I asked what I had done to earn such a gift.

“I don’t think it was specifically anything you did,” she told me. “These kids are smart, they can just tell. They’ve grown up in a lot of different environments, and they can sense when someone really cares about them. They know that you care and I think they appreciate that more than anything.”

My goal had always been to make a difference in my students’ lives, but I thought I was limited to the kids I tutored in Math Corps. I quickly realized that “my students” were not just the ones I tutored—I had been able to impact an entire classroom.

I love when students come into my room before school to say good morning, or ask if they can stay with me for recess. It is even more rewarding when a student asks if they can call home to share their most recent benchmark score, or when their parents tell me that they talk about Math Corps all the time at home. Not only have I developed a positive and fun relationship with my students, but they have also taken an active role in their learning and are proud to share that with others.

Your experience serving with Math Corps (and Reading Corps) will be what you make it. When I was considering becoming a tutor, I was going to take a gap year after graduating so that I could apply to medical school. I wanted to spend that year doing something that would help me grow as a person and better prepare me for the career of a physician. Since serving with Math Corps, I have been accepted to the University of Minnesota Medical School and will start classes there this August!

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Continuing a Lifetime of Service

Dan Carlson, Math Enrichment Tutor at Staples-Motley Middle School in Motley, MN


For retired police officer Dan Carlson, giving back to the community is more than just a weekend hobby. With 30 years of experience in law enforcement, Dan devoted his career to service. Now as a Math Corps tutor at Staples-Motley Middle School, he’s found a whole new way to give back!

“After my retirement from public safety, I found I had a great amount of time to fill. You can only do so much fishing, golfing and relaxing,” Dan says. “I felt the need to continue serving my community, but in a different way.”

He first got to know Reading Corps through his daughter Brianna Mielke, who serves as a Reading Corps tutor. She spoke highly of the program and Dan decided to give Math Corps a try.

Throughout his first year of service, he’s learned a lot about himself and his school, but what he really enjoys is the interaction with his students. The best part? Seeing students light up when a concept finally clicks.

And the benefits for Dan don’t end there—whether it’s with a simple thank you, a smile or an exciting story they’ve shared, Dan’s students, he says, help him stay young at heart.

While serving in the 3-day a week position, Dan has found the perfect balance between serving the community he loves and still finding time to enjoy all the benefits of retired life. Throughout his career—and now his retirement—he’s approached everything he does with a service mindset, and hopes others will do the same.

“You don’t have to be a ‘math person’ to do Math Corps—I’m not,” Dan explains. “You just need to be willing to help students who need that little extra to get them back up to where they need to be.”


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Four Unique (and Clever) Uses for Your Education Award

Photo: Corporation for National & Community Service


As the school year comes to an end and the students excitedly discuss their summer plans, your mind may begin to turn toward your Education Award. What do you do with it? For those members who have completed their degree, already paid off student loans or don’t have children or grandchildren to gift the award to, finding an alternative way to use the Education Award can be a tricky task. But what you may not know is that there are more ways to use your award than you may think.

Study Abroad
If studying stateside isn’t for you, take your education overseas by participating in a study abroad program. Learn about literature on the rolling hills of Ireland or take in the latest tech in Japan. No matter where you choose to go, studying abroad can be a great opportunity for personal growth and discovery.

Alternatively, you can also earn college credit or complete your degree in another country. For those schools not listed as Title IV, you may still be able to attend through an exchange program.

Learn a New Skill
Ever wanted to become a certified SCUBA instructor? Get your pilot’s license? Take up photography? Learn about beekeeping? With your Education Award, you can pay toward qualifying skill or certification classes for that hobby you’ve been meaning to get to. Check your local community college, university or non-profit organization to see what’s offered near you.

Serve Across the Globe
Take your service to a whole new place! Through organizations like IPSL and Global Service Corps, you can help international communities in need, while also gaining valuable experiences and skills you can take with you throughout your life. Not to mention the chance to travel the world!

Multiply Your Money
While this alternative use is being applied to your education in a more traditional sense, it also offers you the opportunity to gain more money toward expenses. Many colleges and universities across the United States offer an education award match as recognition for your commitment to service. Contact the institution you’re looking to attend to see if they would consider contributing to your education.

For more information on the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/segal-americorps-education-award or send us a message!



Study abroad: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-i-used-my-americorps-ed-award-leila-soliman/
Overseas schools: https://www.nationalservice.gov/resources/ed-award/overseas-schools
Skill or certification classes: https://sccwelcometodurango.weebly.com/alternative-ways-to-use-your-ed-award.html
IPSL: https://www.ipsl.org/americorps
Global Service Corps: https://www.globalservicecorps.org/pages/how-to-use-your-americorps-segal-award
Matching institutions: https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/segal-americorps-education-award/matching-institutions


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