Reading Corps

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.

Kelsey CummingsReading Corps: Where I Learned How to Teach Reading
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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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Reading Corps Alum Receives October Spirit of Service Award

Spirit of Service Award honoree James Magee

“To work one on one with kids who just needed that extra push was really important to me.”

What better way to celebrate our anniversary (15 years of Reading Corps, 10 years of Math Corps) than recognizing the amazing achievements of our alumni? The Spirit of Service Award is presented to alumni in recognition of their efforts to live the AmeriCorps pledge and continue to focus on community after completing their service.

The first Spirit of Service Awards were presented at August Institute to alums Sarah Warren, Mary Borrell and Lindsay Taute. In honor of October Institute, we were proud to recognize Reading Corps alumni James Magee.

After completing his degree in classical music performance, James was drawn to the idea of becoming a teacher. While working as a paraprofessional at Royal Oaks Elementary school in Woodbury, he learned about Reading Corps and thought it might be a great pathway to becoming a teacher. James served as a Reading Corps tutor in 2009-10 and went on to earn his teaching license and complete an MA in education. After teaching kindergarten for six years, he now works as an instructional coach for South Washington County Schools.

“[Reading Corps] wasn’t a program that was looking out for itself; the kids were the primary goal the entire time,” James said. “That level of care and concern for each student was something I was able to take with me and adjust my instructional strategies moving forward.”

James cites his AmeriCorps experience as a driving force behind his desire to do meaningful work in his community and beyond. He has participated in global service by working to construct buildings and gather curriculum materials for primary students in Rwanda, and frequently volunteers locally with his children to support education. A passionate advocate for service, James says, “If you’re not willing to invest in education, you’re not willing to invest in your community’s success.”

Congratulations, James! We thank you for your service to Reading Corps and ongoing leadership in both the classroom and the community. We continue to be amazed by the incredible work our alumni do after service, and we look forward to honoring even more alumni during January Institute!


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We’re Looking for Great People: Help Us Find Them and Earn a Free Jacket!

Can’t get enough of Reading Corps and Math Corps? Constantly telling your friends to join our dedicated community? Want to ensure more Minnesota children have the help they need to build strong skills in reading and math?

Turn your passion for our programs into perks with our referral promotion! Refer a new applicant and receive a limited edition black softshell jacket.

Here’s how it works:

1) Tell a friend about Reading Corps or Math Corps!
We’re looking for great new applicants. Know someone who is looking for a way to give back during retirement, needs experience for their teaching degree, or who is just passionate about helping children succeed? Share how service has been impactful for you and about all the great work our tutors are doing across Minnesota—they’re sure to be inspired!

2) Direct them to apply at www.readingandmath.net
New applicants can search for opportunities at schools near them by clicking “Apply Now” and navigating the dropdown menu options to find a position that suits them best.

3) Remind them to list your name on their application
When they fill out their online application, there will be a place for them to list how they heard about our programs. Make sure they list your name so we know who referred them!

4) Check your email inbox
After your candidate completes Institute, we’ll be reaching out to you to confirm your jacket size and preferred shipping address, so be sure to keep an eye on your inbox (and your Spam folder!) so you don’t miss our message.

5) Wear your jacket proudly!
Thank you for being such a great advocate for Minnesota learners and helping to spread the word about service. Wear your new jacket with pride!

And that’s it! Still have a few questions? Email us at recruitment@servetogrow.org or call 866.859.2825 and we’ll be happy to help.

Alumni, current tutors, coaches, principals and staff are eligible for this promotion. New applicants only.
 
 
 
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Reading Corps Alum Awarded Duluth’s 20 Under 40

Recently, Reading Corps alum Jodi Broadwell was recognized as one of Duluth’s 20 Under 40, an annual award honoring local leaders for their community impact and involvement.

Jodi first discovered Reading Corps when she spotted a flyer while dropping her son off at school. A single parent who not only was juggling multiple jobs and a preschool student, but also going to school herself, Jodi thought serving during the same hours her son was in school was just the solution she needed.

And it was while serving as the first preschool literacy tutor at Laura MacArthur Elementary’s Head Start program that Jodi found her passion for helping those in need. “I had never served on a committee before Reading Corps, and now I organize events all the time,” Jodi said. “that introduction into civic engagement is important.”

After Reading Corps, Jodi was inspired to get involved even more, serving on the board of directors for Community Action Duluth, the League of Women’s Voters-Duluth, Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, Inc, and Ecolibrium3. She has also been a caretaker for a Big Red Bookshelf for five years, served on the Duluth-Superior Pride Committee, and is a city commissioner for the Duluth Public Arts Commission.

“When you’re doing work in the community and making a difference, it makes for more meaningful life experiences,” Jodi said, “and sometimes it might benefit the person doing the volunteering more than the person on the receiving end.”

Serving as a Reading Corps tutor at a Head Start had a major impact on Jodi’s life, spawning a lifelong love for ensuring children and families living in impoverished conditions have the resources they need to succeed. Currently, she runs Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative, a small nonprofit that strengthens the community by connecting families who care about children. Though her projects might include parent support groups, free family activities or a new day care center, Jodi has never forgotten the importance of reading. “Everything we do [with the kids] has some sort of early literacy component, whether it’s the whiteboards, signing in each day, or reading aloud…and we’re always encouraging parents to have those conversations with their children.”

With community service being such an important part of her life, what advice would Jodi give to those looking for a way to make a change? Get involved! “I really encourage people to embrace a national AmeriCorps service because it’s a wonderful experience—and looks great on a resume too!”

An alphabet mural Jodi and her students made during her 2nd year at Laura MacArthur Elementary, which has been hanging at UMD Children’s Place for ten years!

 

 
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Reading Corps Works: New Study Confirms Powerful Impact

 

We’ve always been proud of the fact that #readingcorpsworks. Our evidence-based interventions paired with the dedication and encouragement of our amazing tutors has helped thousands of children across Minnesota achieve great gains in reading. The data has always been important to us, and recently we received some extra exciting results we wanted to share with you!

In an independent study of Minnesota Reading Corps conducted over the course of an entire academic year, NORC at the University of Chicago researchers confirmed that the program makes a significant impact on the literacy skills of students—equating our readers’ gains to half to almost a full year’s worth of extra school.

“Reading Corps not only continues to achieve outstanding results for our students, this study shows its impact is even greater,” explains Audrey Suker, CEO of ServeMinnesota. “And, given the fact that this AmeriCorps program serves more than 600 schools and upwards of 30,000 students each year, this clearly demonstrates that Reading Corps is making significant headway in closing the achievement gap.”

 
 

And a startling gap it is—with a 36 percent gap between the highest and lowest achieving groups, children from traditionally underprivileged groups (such as non-White racial groups or those eligible for free and reduced-price lunch) often struggle to keep up with their peers. But with the study showing that Reading Corps has had an even greater impact on these students, our tutors are well on their way to ensuring every child in Minnesota has the skills and support they need for a brighter future.

With such positive results, we’re more motivated than ever to spread the message of service across the state and help Minnesota children make great gains in reading. But we can’t do it alone! Interested in joining this vast community of service-minded people helping students succeed every day? Part-time or full-time positions available for college grads, parents, retirees, or anyone looking to make an impact! Visit www.readingandmath.net to learn more about any of our statewide positions or apply now to start in October or January.

 

Want to dig in to the details? Take a look at some of the study’s key findings below:


Kindergarten Students

  • Kindergarten students who received Minnesota Reading Corps tutoring achieved significantly higher letter sound fluency scores by the end of the first semester (Winter 2018) than Kindergarten control students who did not receive the program.
  • On average, program students correctly identified an average of 10.9 more letter sounds in one minute than control group students.
  • Kindergarten students who received Reading Corps tutoring demonstrated additional growth equaling an extra 50 to 90 percent of a year of schooling.


First Grade Students

  • First grade students who received Minnesota Reading Corps tutoring achieved significantly higher word-reading scores by the end of the first semester (Winter 2018) than students who did not receive the program.
  • Impacts of first grade Reading Corps transferred to the broader reading skill of oral reading fluency, an essential foundational literacy skill.


Second and Third Grade Students

  • Minnesota Reading Corps second and third grade students attained significantly higher oral reading fluency scores by the Spring benchmark than control group students.

 


At Risk Students

  • A statistically significant impact of Reading Corps was found for second and third grade students regardless of minority status (i.e., Black), gender, or ELL status.
  • Second and third grade students in each of these groups significantly outperformed control students on oral reading fluency scores, and grew faster than the typical Reading Corps student, reflecting a closure of the achievement gap.
  • Together, the findings show that the Minnesota Reading Corps program can have a substantial and positive impact on at-risk students who are often underserved because they fall between students performing at grade level and special education referrals, and typically have fewer resources available to them.
 

Overall

Based on findings from two highly rigorous, impartial, and complementary studies, the Minnesota Reading Corps K-3 program conclusively improves K-3 students’ early reading skills.
 
 

 

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Reading Corps, Math Corps Alum Receive First Spirit of Service Awards

Spirit of Service award honorees Mary Borrell (left) and Sarah Warren (right) receive their awards at August Institute. (Not pictured is honoree Lindsay Taute.)

At Minnesota Reading Corps and Minnesota Math Corps, we’re constantly amazed by the dedication and passion demonstrated by each and every one of our tutors. Community-driven people from all across Minnesota volunteer a year (or more!) of their lives to inspire and encourage students to build the skills and confidence for a brighter future. We’re so incredibly grateful!

This August, as we celebrated Reading Corps’ 15th year and Math Corps’ 10th year, we also recognized some of the amazing alumni who have taken this dedication to service and extended it beyond our programs and into their day-to-day lives. The first ever Alumni Spirit of Service Awards were presented to three such alum during Institute on August 14th.

Both Reading Corps and Math Corps alumni who had completed their service during the 17-18 school year or earlier were eligible, with winners chosen based on continued service after Reading Corps and Math Corps and their dedication to making a difference. Whether it was continued involvement in a school, volunteering to help communities across the globe, or writing children’s books to foster a love for reading, these alumni have made service an essential part of their lives and work. In addition to the award certificate, winners also received new alumni jackets.

We know that the desire to give back doesn’t end after your AmeriCorps service, and we hope that these stories will help inspire you to continue to get involved in your community and make a difference for those in need. We are excited to launch this tradition and look forward to celebrating more honorees as part of October and January Institutes!

Mary Borrell

“I think it’s really powerful to have those years or whatever time period just to give back.”

Mary served for two years as a Reading Corps tutor at Vista View Elementary in Burnsville. During her service she pursued a master’s degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders at St. Thomas University. She was subsequently hired on at Vista View Elementary where she now works with children on the autism spectrum. In addition to supporting incoming tutors to Vista View, Mary is also involved with Girls on the Run and  serves on the Cultural Proficiency Team for ISD 191.



Sarah Warren

“It’s service to others but also an incredible opportunity to grow as a professional.”

An experienced early childhood educator, Sarah served for two years as a PreK tutor and two years as a Family Child Care tutor. After completing her fourth term of service in 2016, Sarah has continued to be a champion for literacy in Minneapolis. She leads teacher trainings, workshops for teens and local story hours for families. Her book Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers has been recognized by The Amelia Bloomer Book List and has also been featured on amightygirl.com.

 

 

Lindsay Taute

“There is no sense in doing what we’re doing unless it impacts a person’s life.”

Lindsay served as a Math Corps tutor in 2009 at North Junior High School in St. Cloud. Her service with Math Corps was a gap year before beginning medical school at the University of Minnesota. She has participated in a month-long medical mission to Haiti, is credited on multiple case reports and studies, and recently presented at the American Academy of Pathologist’s Assistants annual meeting in Oregon. She continues to invest in her community and now practices medicine in New Mexico.



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Finding Her Direction in Education

Cassandra Stoll, K-3 Literacy Tutor at Zimmerman Elementary School in Zimmerman, MN

Having recently completed her bachelor’s degree in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at the University of Minnesota, Cassie Stoll knew she wanted to launch her career and do something she was passionate about.

As she reflected on possible next steps, she remembered her nephew’s remarkable experience with Reading Corps as a kindergartner. “He made tremendous strides in his literacy skills,” Cassie said, “so I knew firsthand that the program works.”

An avid reader herself, Cassie was drawn to Reading Corps and thought working in a school would be a new and challenging experience for her. After starting her service at Zimmerman Elementary School in Zimmerman, Minnesota, Cassie quickly found out that to the kids, she wasn’t just a tutor, but a cheerleader, educator, advocate and friend.

“There’s never a dull moment when you’re serving,” Cassie explains. “My students could always make me smile, regardless of what kind of day I was having. One of my favorite [memories] is when I found out that two of my students would play ‘Reading Corps’ together at daycare after school. They would do all of our reading activities and take turns being ‘Miss Cassie’!”

Cassie enjoyed her service so much that she was inspired to enroll at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota to complete a master’s in Special Education. Within the next couple of years she hopes to have a classroom of her own. “My tutoring experience has given me a purpose and helped me discover what I want to do with the rest of my life!” Cassie says.

And to those considering service? She has one piece of advice: “Go into the experience with an open mind and an open heart. You never know where your service year will take you.”

If you think Reading Corps sounds like your next adventure, send us an email or give us a call at 866.859.2825 to learn more about opportunities near you.





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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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