Reading 20 minutes at a time

Published 11:15 am Friday, April 2, 2010

Oranization skills, high school diploma, knowledge of the English language and a passion for helping young children learn. These are the basic skills needed to be a volunteer with the Minnesota Reading Corps.

The MRC is an AmeriCorps program that trains tutors to help children read. The tutors help children from age 3 to third-grade. They are currently hiring members until June for the 2010-2011 school year.

Sibley Elementary School has an MRC member working on-site, Christina Weigel, and she is the first member in Albert Lea’s school district. Sibley has applied to get another member for next year’s school district, as have Lakeview and Hawthorne.

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“We’re thrilled to have it again,” Sibley Principal Ross Williams said.

Anyone can apply to be a member of the MRC, and schools want someone who’s from the community.

“Every school is looking for as much help as they can get without costing the district money,” Michelle Wiens said.

Sibley has had success with Weigel working on their team. Weigel is regularly coached by Wiens, who also works at Sibley. Members also get a master coach from the MRC to help them with any problems they may have.

“It’s a positive thing that gives you a lot back,” Williams said.

Members first get training from the MRC and have a specific schedule of what activities to do for which children.

Members don’t have to come up with their own lesson plans, they just have to follow the plan of research-based activities for whichever age range the child is in. Once they start to meet goals they no longer meet for extra reading help.

“We continue to check in with them to make sure they’re still on track,” Wiens said.

The main goal of the MRC is to help children who are struggling while they are still young. It’s easier to help a kindergartener who is having trouble than a third-grader who is struggling. Younger children learn faster, so they try to reach kids at an early age.

“After third grade they are reading to learn instead of learning to read,” Weigel said.

The MRC specifically wants to help children learn how to read fluently so they can read the materials by themselves in the fourth grade. Fluency is reading accurately, with expression and at a good rate.

“They could be a really fast reader but not know to stop at punctuation,” Wiens said.

Weigel typically helps 16 or 17 children each day for 20 minutes. She sees them every day, and the children like to come work with her.

“Building that relationship is a benefit,” Weigel said.

In June the schools will start looking at applicants. There will be joint interviews with principals and coaches from the MRC for the finalists.

Members receive a stipend, free health insurance for the year and education awards to put toward student loans or furthering their education. The education award is up to $5000 if the member is full-time. Members can also get student loans deferred for the year they are working.

The MRC program is for young children who are just under the desired reading levels. The hope is that with some one-on-one training they will jump back up to their reading level.

This burden would fall on the already busy teachers if a school didn’t have an MRC member. Students at Sibley are tested three times a year for fluency, and teachers decide whether they would be helped by working with Weigel.

“To me success is not just meeting goals,” Weigel said. “If they’re improving that’s a success.”

Wiens agreed with Weigel’s definition of success but added that she thinks it’s a success if a child learns to like reading.

“So many students dislike reading because it’s hard for them,” Wiens said. “Working with members helps them learn how to improve their reading.”