A successful school-community partnership: Minnesota Reading Corps

/ 20 May 2014 / Shawna

b6e215a6-df24-4b1b-b821-f2a83c331f13-mAnn Hobbie, Parents United for Public Schools, May 20, 2014

In the coming year, Parents United will highlight ways that partnerships with the community are helping schools and their students achieve outcomes. Minnesota Reading Corps is the first of these success stories we share.

AmeriCorps, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), is the federal program/agency that oversees Minnesota Reading Corps. Since its beginning in 1994, AmeriCorps has engaged over 80,000 Americans each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies and faith-based groups in intensive service to meet community needs not only in education, but also in disaster services, economic opportunity, environmental stewardship, public health and veteran/military family well-being.

In keeping with its great reputation, Minnesota’s homegrown Reading Corps program is the largest of any of state AmeriCorps programs across the country. It trains and supports more than 1000 tutors in 800 schools across Minnesota to work with children preK-grade 3 to develop their literacy. With a goal to help ensure every child in the state can read by the end of 3rd grade, the program has seen real success in catching struggling students up to grade level.

“The impact of Minnesota Reading Corps at our school has been extraordinary,” says Nancy Dana, principal at St. Paul City School, a charter school in St. Paul’s Frog Town neighborhood. “We have two individuals in our preschool program, and two for our K–3 grades. They have been invaluable to our success. Their training is second to none, and their commitment to the success of our students is very powerful.”

Reading Corps trains tutors (also called “members”) in research-based interventions. Tutors commit to 11 months of service, serving either 40 or 20 hours per week with individual students in a school. Tutors build literacy skills such as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency and textual understanding. Reading Corps’ sister program, Minnesota Math Corps, trains math tutors in similarly effective strategies. Shawna Hedlund, a Minneapolis mother whose second grader works with a Reading Corps volunteer, says:

“What I’ve noticed about the Reading Corps tutor working with my son is that she has successfully improved his reading skills without him feeling like he had a reading problem.”

Reading Corps service has traditionally attracted college students, recent college graduates and retirees. But Minnesota Reading and Math Corps Outreach Manager Anna Peters hopes to expand that demographic to include stay-at-home parents and even high school graduates. For people who are already invested in their local school, this is a great way to make a deeper impact, get trained in effective methods and even transition into the workforce.

In exchange for their tutoring service, Reading Corps and Math Corps members earn a biweekly stipend of about $484 (full-time) or $242 (part-time), along with an education award of up to $5,645 that can be used to pay back federal student loans or pay for tuition, and which can be used within a seven year window. Those members who are 55 years or older can even gift their stipend to a child or grandchild! Members receive nominal healthcare and dental benefits, as well.

Sabrina Edwards, who is currently serving her second year with Reading Corps, says, “These two years I have become more involved in my daughter’s education. I’m participating in her school literacy activities and I’m also helping others in the community. I love being an AmeriCorps member.”

Reading Corps was recently in the national spotlight after a three-year third party evaluation was released.

“We can now say that kindergarten and elementary school students with Reading Corps tutors achieve significantly higher literacy scores than students without a tutor. It’s exciting to validate what our tutors already know because they see it every day–their students are growing.”