By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL-COKATO, MN For the last two years, tutors from the Minnesota Reading Corps (RC) program have been helping elementary-age students within the Dassel-Cokato School District improve their reading skills.
Students helped by RC tutors typically only need a bit of extra help to become proficient readers, and there is one tutor at each elementary school this year.
“Students in the program are not bad readers. In fact, most do not qualify for extra services through the school,” said Cokato Elementary reading corps member Trista Danberg. “They just need a little extra one-on-one help to get them on track to do well on the MCA (tests), which start in third grade.”
Focusing on the individual needs of students, the program has helped increase student test scores and grade-level reading proficiency, said Dassel Elementary Principal Debbie Morris.
“Students who are in the middle flourish with the attention and practice the program provides,” said Dassel Elementary reading corps member Cheri Nord. “How do you show how smart you really are when you can’t read the standardized test? Less student stress equals more life success.”
Students involved in the program receive 20-minute sessions of one-on-one time with RC members each day working on reading fluency, which includes accuracy, rate, and expression, Danberg said.
“When reading is more automatic, previously struggling students smile more,” Nord said. “Homework goes more quickly, and the brain can work on the learning and memory, not just the reading.”
Reading Corps provides members with a number of interventions, and each student receives an intervention tailored to their reading skill needs.
Each student’s progress is monitored weekly. “I can look back at the beginning of the year and see that a child was reading about 50 words per minute; now they hit 100,” Danberg said.
“It is so fun when you see a student’s eyes light up, or you realize that something just clicked inside them,” she added. “It’s also a joy to have fun with students. I love when a student works really hard on an activity, and then they beat their score and get to leap to the next page.”
Since students can read about their interests at a higher reading level whether it be baseball or rainforest animals, books, magazines, and media research become more interesting, Nord added.
RC tutors join the program for a number of reasons, from being passionate about helping children learn to read, to furthering their professional development as educators
“I became involved to help kids,” Nord said. “I am a specialist teacher who didn’t have Minnesota certification, and am best working one-on-one.”
Danberg, who graduated from Bemidji State University last year with an associate’s degree, is considering going back to complete a bachelor’s degree in elementary education or speech pathology.
“I saw this as an amazing experience, and one in which I would learn so much about the schools and working with children,” Danberg said. “I also figured working for a year would help me decide if this is the right area for me, when the time comes to go back to school myself.”
One important aspect of the RC program, which is an AmeriCorps program (often referred to as the domestic Peace Corps), is that it is volunteer-based, noted Morris.
The RC members who serve in the program are not paid an hourly wage like other staff at the school, but receive a stipend to help cover living expenses.
They are responsible for serving a certain number of volunteer hours per week, which are not always filled with their one-on-one time with students.
For instance, to help fulfill her volunteer obligation, Nord is at most school events, such as Dairy Queen art nights.
She also works closely with the volunteer coordinator at the school, laminating and cutting, making copies, and assisting teachers with other duties.
RC members commit a year of their time, working either full- or part-time, to serve in the program. They start in August, and must have all their hours completed by the end of June.
“It is important to plan your time wisely, and look into planning for days that may come up, like snow days and holidays, knowing you will need to make them up somehow,” Danberg said.
To help fulfill her obligations, Danberg has volunteered at the Charger Kids Club, the public library, news stations, and other school activities, she said.
After their year of service is complete, RC members also qualify for an education award to be used to pay for school or pay back qualified federal student loans.
“My own children, because of age rules, can use my education award to apply to their student loans or college tuition,” noted Nord. “I am able to help my grandchildren’s futures by helping their parents.”
RC is currently in the process of hiring tutors for the 2013-14 school year at a number of different sites throughout the state.
Not all members work with elementary-age children some work at the preschool level, some solely with kindergartners, and some serve as volunteer coordinators.
For more information, click on MN Reading Corps under the featured links tab at www.dasselcokato.com, or talk with your child’s school principal.