Minnesota Reading Corps & Minnesota Math Corps Blog

This Small Program Change is Helping Kids Maintain Their Progress

This Small Program Change is Helping Kids Maintain Their Progress

Peter Nelson, Ph.D., is the Director of Research and Innovation at ServeMinnesota, where he engages with programs including Reading Corps and Math Corps to ensure key principles of effective implementation and evidence-building occur. In this interview, we discussed how Nelson’s team was able to implement a new assessment strategy to help improve learning outcomes for students in Reading Corps.

Using Assessment to Understand a Problem

Peter Nelson
Peter Nelson, Ph.D.

Reading Corps is a program that has been around for 15+ years in order to help younger elementary students read at grade level. The program’s tutors use different strategies, or interventions, to help the students. How do we assess how those students are doing?

Peter Nelson: In our K-3 Reading Corps model, we use brief measures of students’ literacy skill to get a sense of how they are doing across time. They practice during each session five days a week, but also complete the brief assessments once each week. Each score gets plotted on a graph. We compare those scores to what we call an aim line, which is line drawn from where they start in the fall to a benchmark in the spring linked to future college readiness and mastering proficiency.

When three of the last five weekly scores are above that aim line, and two of those scores are above the next benchmark, students are exited from the program. For example, if you exit in March, you need three data points above your goal line, two of which must be above a future spring goal. It’s a rigorous way to exit kids from receiving the extra support that Reading Corps provides.

We want to be confident that when we remove Reading Corps support, the student will stay on track and be successful.

What was the initial problem you were interested in?

For a few years, we knew there were kids who exited from Reading Corps but weren’t staying on track. You can look at the probability in the paper—we were seeing about 34 percent of students falling off track after an exit decision. To be clear, we were seeing that kids were much better off than they were previously, but many kids just weren’t maintaining a level of performance we’d hope for once Reading Corps support was discontinued.

So even though about 66 percent of kids were maintaining a great growth trajectory, we care a lot about the 34 percent that weren’t.

Weighing Difference Approaches

How did you figure out why this was happening?

We looked at a lot of factors to understand why we were seeing that drop off in performance after kids left Reading Corps.

We wondered, for example, if the point in time during the school year that kids exited the program impacted their long term growth. That didn’t explain it. We then looked at demographics of kids – race, gender and so on – and that wasn’t explaining much either.

Eventually, we started thinking less about predicting the drop off and more about whether changes to the decision guidelines would be useful. For example, we spent time thinking about, should we change our criteria for exit and make it more rigorous?

Would that be a good approach?

We didn’t see a lot of potential or return there. The yield turned out to not really be worth it, because any time you’re keeping kids in the program longer, you are keeping another kid out. A kid who then needs support isn’t getting it, when the student in the program is doing fine. So we ended up not really evaluating new exit criteria in practice.

So then we shifted our focus to think less about what happens before kids exit to what we could do after the exit.

Assessment as a Means to Solve the Problem

What did you wind up trying?

One thing we discussed was giving kids some extra practice after exit. We started thinking about the least invasive form of practice, which was conveniently already baked into the experiences of kids while they were in the program — each week during the intervention, tutors monitor progress of students using a short, minute-long assessment of reading fluency. So we thought why not just keep that going after the intervention? Progress monitoring is something that has been documented previously as something that can improve students’ academic achievement — but only by way of informing instruction or adapting to their needs. It’s never been discussed as something that is inherently beneficial.

If you think about progress monitoring as a task, though, kids are getting an opportunity to practice a skill that they’re being tested on at the end of the year. In this case, it is the exact skill – reading from a passage – they’re being tested on. They also are getting feedback on how they’re doing, and they’re getting a reminder of what the goal is for the end of the year.

These are really powerful things that we talk about in intervention – opportunity to respond, opportunity to engage in the task, and feedback. So that was our hypothesis – that continued progress monitoring after kids have exited Reading Corps could make a difference for long term outcomes.

You were able to test the hypothesis through a research pilot. What happened?

We saw a 10 to 14 percent increase in the probability of meeting the end-of-year benchmark among kids who got post-exit progress monitoring. This struck us as a really promising impact given the low level of time and resources involved.

This year, we are in the middle of a randomized control trial of post-exit progress monitoring – we have 100 sites, 50 of which will continue to monitor the progress of kids weekly after they exit from Reading Corps and 50 sites that are not doing that. It’s a really minor change to programming with a big potential payoff.

How were able to identify this issue and implement change so quickly?

We’re able to do it largely because we have infrastructure that supports innovation. It supports the analysis – we have pretty sophisticated data systems, where we know how kids are performing and growing, but we also know information about their experiences. We know how many minutes they’re getting, when they’re getting support, what exactly they’re doing, where they are geographically and what kind of tutors they’re working with. It’s a really rich dataset. Not a lot of folks in academia have access to that kind of data. It’s millions of cases and thousands of kids.

The other piece is we have this program that is serving all of these kids, and it’s still relatively nimble. In a year’s time, we can say, “We learned this, now let’s change this.” And there aren’t a lot of analogs to that. I don’t think in your typical education setting you can say, “We found this out, we’re going to make this change.” We can. In this case, we might just make it for a subgroup, but if we find out positive results this year, it’s something we can rapidly scale for everybody nationally, which is great.

What would it take to decide to rapidly scale that change nationally?

If we see ANY impact that is statistically significant, meaning that the kids who got post-exit progress monitoring in the randomized control trial this year were better off at the end of the year than similar kids who were not participating, that will be enough for us to make the change. If we see the same effect, that would be great. Even if it’s just 10 percent, that would be enough. Getting one additional student out of every 10 to meet their benchmark at the scale of thousands of kids, is something that’s notable.  

shayla@serveminnesota.orgThis Small Program Change is Helping Kids Maintain Their Progress
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How Reading Corps and Math Corps Can Offset Special Education Costs

 

Julia Espe

Dr. Julia Espe

Editor’s Note: This essay was written by Julia Espe, Ed.D., who served as Superintendent of Princeton Public Schools from 2013 to her retirement in 2016. She currently works as a consultant for ServeMinnesota, the organization that oversees AmeriCorps programs for the state of Minnesota.  

Reading Corps and Math Corps Are Vital Parts of Multi Tiered Systems

It is important for communities around the state to know that teaching and learning are seriously ​rocket science. That is, it is a complex system of creating the right environment of student engagement and challenging targets, knowing exactly what students need to learn to meet or exceed the targets, providing that teaching and learning experience for the student, assessing whether the student is making progress and starting the cycle again.

In the case of students who have difficulty learning, a whole new layer of ​rocket science​​ is needed. Trained professionals need to identify the gaps or needs, provide a targeted intervention to relearn those, decide the approach that will help the learning to “stick,” make a determination how long and intensive the intervention needs to be given to the student and ascertain when the student is indeed meeting the target. Each child is different and has different needs, and teaching and learning has to adjust to provide those needs.

The Princeton School District has a system of Multi Tiered Systems of Supports, and Reading and Math Corps are vital parts of the interventions mentioned above. Title Programs provide additional supports for students in need of interventions. A program called ADSIS (Alternative Delivery of Specialized Instructional Services​) delivers even more interventions for additional students. Students with the greatest needs receive special education services, which are the most expensive of all interventions.

Finally, teachers differentiate instruction for students as they provide instruction in the core curriculum.  It is difficult for lay people to realize the science of teaching — in other words, ​rocket science — that helps students to learn. To the public, all of this may be invisible in a classroom. In order to put this system together, we need support from the state and federal funding that we currently receive.

Decrease in Specific Learning Disabilities

Princeton is a small school district with about 3,200 students PreK through grade 12. Like many districts in Minnesota, it does not have a data and research department. We took a simple approach to measuring cost savings of Reading and Math Corps to the district by looking at a three-year period (2005-2006 through 2007-2008) prior to implementing Reading and Math Corps.

During that time Princeton Public Schools averaged about ​14 ​​students with a Specific Learning Disability. Over the past nine years since we implemented Reading and Math Corps, the average number of students identified with a Specific Learning Disability has decreased to ​seven ​​students — a decrease of 50 percent.

Reading Corps and Math Corps Save You Time

Special education in Minnesota follows a predictable process. Each school district is responsible for identifying children who are suspected of having a disability, beginning at birth, who attend public or nonpublic school and school age children who are not attending school. This system is commonly referred to as “child find.” The child find system should include the process for receiving referrals from parents, physicians, private and public programs, and health and human services agencies.

Before a school district refers a student for a special education evaluation, the district must conduct at least two research-based pre-referral interventions. A pre-referral intervention is a scientific research-based instructional strategy, alternative or intervention designed to address a student’s academic or behavioral needs in the general education classroom. The classroom teacher is responsible for implementing the first tier of interventions.

Tiered interventions outside of the general education classroom offer more intensive instruction to students who have not demonstrated marked improvement with general classroom supports. Reading Corps and Math Corps are just two of the many supports available to students in the Princeton district.

When a student is evaluated for special education services in the area of specific learning disabilities, multiple staff are required to participate in the evaluation process.  For an initial evaluation, a special education teacher will spend roughly 15 hours gathering and reviewing data, evaluating the student, meeting with school staff and parents to review the results and generating a summary report of the information.

In addition, a school psychologist will contribute an additional five hours to the evaluation process. A general education teacher and school administrator will also contribute an additional hour as part of the evaluation. For every initial evaluation, licensed school staff are contributing a total of up to 20 hours to each individual evaluation. If the student qualifies for special education services, up to five more hours will be contributed before services can begin.

The most significant benefit of tiered interventions to the student is time. Research-based interventions such as those offered through Reading Corps and Math Corps do not require the time-intensive evaluations mandated by federal and state special education regulations and statutes. A data-driven analysis of formative assessment data allows general education teachers and interventionists to implement intensive instruction almost immediately.

When Reading Corps and Math Corps Increased, Fewer Special Ed Services Were Needed

Reading Corps and Math Corps services have been available to Princeton students for five years.  Over the same period of time, the number of students requiring special education services has been declining — 23 fewer students over the same time period. This is a great cost savings. Here is a breakdown of the numbers:

  • Each student costs roughly $13,000 per year for specialized instruction.
  • This totals approximately $300,000 per year.
  • This equals approximately $1,500,000 in savings over five years.

In short, Reading Corps and Math Corps have not only helped our students to learn how to read and perform better in math, these programs have also saved our district in costs. Occasionally we hear that these programs may be reduced in support.  They are supported through AmeriCorps funding. Our state legislators recently increased funding for the programs, and we thank them. Congress has supported our programming ever since its inception.  As the federal government works on budget, we will continue to advocate for financing.

Not only do these programs work for our students. They also are cost-effective. And it’s very difficult to not to advocate for that.

shayla@serveminnesota.orgHow Reading Corps and Math Corps Can Offset Special Education Costs
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Service Gives Future Teacher a Head Start

Reading Corps Tutor Chelsea SmithChelsea Smith had just started an intro to education course at Normandale Community College when she first heard about Reading Corps. Her professor had briefly mentioned it, explaining that a student had served in the past.

From the beginning, Chelsea’s interest was sparked. “I think what was most exciting was that I would have experience in a school before I even finished my teaching degree,” she says. “A lot of people don’t get that opportunity.”

After starting her service at Four Seasons A+ Elementary in St. Paul, Chelsea quickly realized that this was the perfect opportunity for a future educator. While serving, she learned how to teach each individual student based on their needs – a skill that is difficult to grasp when in a full classroom. She also made valuable connections with students, other tutors, teachers and administrators. 

Through her service, Chelsea became more confident, built valuable skills to use in her future classroom and discovered she liked being part of a larger movement working for change. “I’ve never really had that before. I truly felt like I was a part of something, working towards a greater goal.”

To those who are considering service, Chelsea believes that it is important to be confident in yourself and your abilities. It can seem daunting at first, but I promise everything falls into place once you’re in the school and meeting students. It’s all worth it.” 

After a year of service, Chelsea began her first year as a teacher at Four Seasons A+ Elementary School in September 2019. We are so proud of her!

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Suzanne PagelService Gives Future Teacher a Head Start
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Kicking Off a Year of Service!

Kicking Off a Year of Service!

This week, Reading Corps and Math Corps members across the state kicked off their year of service! While getting to know each other and more about the year ahead, they pledged to get things done in their communities. Service Kick-offs were held in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, Willmar, Rochester, Detroit Lakes, Grand Rapids, Mankato, Mounds View and Sartell. A very special AmeriCorps thank you to Representative Jennifer Shultz (Duluth) and Senator Carla Nelson (Rochester) who attended Kick-Offs in their cities and led the AmeriCorps pledge.

With so many passionate people beginning their service, there has been great coverage from the media.
(Click the image or buttons below to check out the buzz.)

Next week, tutors from across Minnesota will gather at the Minneapolis Convention Center to complete training in evidence based interventions, progress monitoring, data collection, benchmarking and more. Stay tuned for more updates!

If you or someone you know would like to give their time as a tutor this school year there are still opportunities to begin in September, October and January! Tutors can choose to serve 18, 25, 35 or 40 hours a week. While they serve, members receive great perks like a stipend every two weeks and up to $4,200 for college tuition or loans. Health insurance is available at no cost to members serving full-time (35+ hours a week) and childcare assistance is available to eligible families. To learn more, visit readingandmath.net.

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Suzanne PagelKicking Off a Year of Service!
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Reading Corps and Math Corps in the News

Reading Corps and Math Corps in the News

It’s always fun to be featured on KARE 11! Program manager Lizzie Morris and tutor Youa Xiong were recently highlighted in a segment that called for more reading and math tutors throughout the state. Minnesota Reading Corps and Math Corps are currently looking for about 500 more tutors in the Twin Cities metro and another 500 tutors in greater Minnesota for the 2019-20 school year. Be sure to watch the story and check out some behind-the-scenes photos below!

 

Lizzie Morris, Program Manager

Youa Xiong, Literacy tutor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to KARE 11 for helping us spread the word that Minnesota kids need reading and math tutors. If you or someone you know could give your time to help students in need, visit readingandmath.net. #BeMoreMN

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Suzanne PagelReading Corps and Math Corps in the News
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The Need is Now — Opportunities to Serve in Longfellow

The Need is Now — Opportunities to Serve in Longfellow

There has never been a better time to give back to your community! Reading & Math, Inc. (home of Reading Corps, Math Corps, Opportunity Corps and Recovery Corps) has 14 opportunities for Longfellow residents to serve with AmeriCorps and make an impact in their neighborhood. Through AmeriCorps you can:

  • Tackle the achievement gap by working to help students build skills and confidence
  • Work to bridge the opportunity gap by helping individuals find and keep good-paying jobs
  • Support those in recovery as they chart a new course in the community

Choose to serve 18, 25, 35 or 40 hours a week. While serving, members receive great perks like a stipend every two weeks, additional funds for housing assistance and up to $4,200 for college tuition or loans. Health insurance is available at no cost to members serving full-time (35+ hours a week) and childcare assistance is available to eligible families.

Current opportunities in Longfellow include the following sites:

To be part of meeting critical needs in Longfellow, visit the links above, email recruitment@servetogrow.org or call 866-859-2825.

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Suzanne PagelThe Need is Now — Opportunities to Serve in Longfellow
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Fast Forward – How Service Shaped One Alumni’s Career

Fast Forward – How Service Shaped One Alumni’s Career

Throughout the state, past AmeriCorps members continue to make a big impact. Using skills they refined during service, our alumni stand out among other applicants in terms of professionalism, communication, practical experience and more. AmeriCorps is a launching pad for leaders! 

Recently, Reading Corps alum Briana Gruenewald was recognized as one of Finance & Commerce’s Rising Young Professionals, an annual list featuring successful, young leaders in Minnesota businesses.

Upon earning a degree in journalism and marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Briana served with Minnesota Reading Corps as a literacy tutor and ThreeSixty Journalism as a VISTA member. “I joined Minnesota Reading Corps as a preschool literacy tutor right after graduating from college,” Briana said. “With a journalism degree, I knew I didn’t want to be a journalist but didn’t quite know what career move I should make next.”

As a Reading Corps tutor, Briana served PreK students at American Indian Magnet. Looking back she says her year of service was more than she could have hoped for. “Not only was I making meaningful relationships with students, but I knew I was helping grow their literacy skills because there was data to prove it.” As part of her Reading Corps service, Briana joined a corps-wide communications committee to help recruit tutors. “I truly felt like I was living the dream of getting to make a direct impact on preschoolers’ lives and ensuring many more tutors were recruited to continue the legacy.”

Through service, Briana found a passion for mission-driven work and the nonprofit sector. Today, as a senior account executive and graphic design lead with Bellmont Partners, a public relations agency based in Edina, she focuses on nonprofit clients like Second Harvest Heartland, People Incorporated, MnFIRE, Midwest Dairy and more. “Every day, I get to contribute to life-changing missions – and my AmeriCorps service prepared me for it.” 

Be sure to check out Finance & Commerce’s recent Rising Young Professionals of 2019 feature on Briana. We’re so proud she’s part of the Reading Corps family!

Photo: Sharolyn B. Hagen Photography

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Suzanne PagelFast Forward – How Service Shaped One Alumni’s Career
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Building Math Muscles

Building Math Muscles

Guest Writer: Therese Folsom, Math Enrichment Tutor at Westwood Elementary in Zimmerman, MN

As a Math Corps tutor, I spend my days at Westwood Elementary School in Zimmerman, Minnesota. After retiring from a human resources analyst position with Target, I found that I missed the stimulation of working with a team of people to solve problems. When I saw there was an opening for a math tutor at Westwood Elementary, it seemed like an excellent fit for me!

I knew the position would enable me to help students, but what I did not realize was the extent to which the position would help me grow as a person. The training Minnesota Reading and Math Corps provided was excellent. My coaches and manager were a wonderful support system and helped me succeed.

While at the school, many of the students in my group were quick to tell me that they were not good at math. I let them know that almost everything takes practice and that we would practice together to build their “math muscles”. The weeks flew by and the end of the school year arrived.

During her last session with me, one of my students took my hand and said, “I hated school until I got to come to Math Corps.”  When I heard that, my heart melted and I vowed then and there to spread the good news of Minnesota Reading Corps and Minnesota Math Corps.

In August 2019, Therese will begin her third term of service with Minnesota Math Corps. She’s looking forward to helping more students build their skills and confidence!

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Suzanne PagelBuilding Math Muscles
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Why I Know Early Literacy Matters

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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NewsWhy I Know Early Literacy Matters
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From High School to AmeriCorps: A Recent Grad’s Decision to Join Reading Corps

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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