School Staff

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!

 

Suzanne PagelService Gives Future Teacher a Head Start
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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.

administratorReading Corps: Where I Learned How to Teach Reading
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Principal Spotlight: Jason Harris

Jason Harris, Principal
South Jr. High School, Saint Cloud, Minnesota

With nearly 1,000 students in his building, Jason Harris wanted to increase his capacity to serve students who needed extra support. He says Math Corps made perfect sense. “Not all kids thrive in a classroom,” he explains. “Some kids – and specifically the kids we serve in Math Corps – really need that individualized attention and the focused practice.”

Harris notes that by the time students get to junior high, too many have decided that they can’t do math – this is a notion Math Corps tutors help dismantle. Working with a tutor, students begin to build both their skills and confidence. “When we pull the data, we see most kids are getting to the next level,” Harris says. “The extra support really helps them get off the bubble.”

Over the past five years, South Junior High has typically had two Math Corps tutors devoted to working with students during the school day. In addition to tutoring, Math Corps tutors also assist students after school with homework and help support the larger learning community. “We’ve had college students, parents and retirees serve with Math Corps at South,” Harris notes. “They do a great job working with our students.”

Harris and his team collaborate with the district and Math Corps to promote the opportunity to serve and let people know their students need tutors. “We get it on our district website, in our school newsletter, we distribute flyers and really get out there to connect with St. Cloud State University students as well.”

Asked what he’d tell his colleagues who don’t already have Math Corps in their building, his response is quick. “Go ahead and get a Math Corps tutor! Why would you pass up a resource that can help your kids learn and achieve in math?”

administratorPrincipal Spotlight: Jason Harris
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