Reading Corps grows

Published 9:26 am Friday, March 25, 2011

Ben Frayne, the Reading Corps tutor at Hawthorne Elementary School, works with Jayden Modderman, a third-grader, on Wednesday. -- Kelli Lageson/Albert Lea Tribune

The Minnesota Reading Corps program is growing at the elementary schools in Albert Lea Area Schools.

MRC, an AmeriCorps program that trains tutors to help children read, first had a tutor at Sibley Elementary School in the 2009-10 school year and expanded to Lakeview and Hawthorne elementaries this year. Next year Halverson Elementary School will get their first tutor, so that each school will have a tutor who can work with students who are just below grade level in reading.

“We’re looking at any opportunity we can to support kids who could fall through the cracks,” Sibley Principal Ross Williams said.

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Halverson Principal Matt Esterby said he’s used the program in districts he’d previously worked in and has seen its success. He said the type of people who sign up to be tutors are in it for the service they can provide.

“They get a living allowance, but it’s truly a volunteer thing,” Esterby said.

MRC has specific lesson plans, called interventions, they use for students who are almost at grade level. As soon as a student reaches grade level they no longer meet with a tutor but are continually monitored to make sure they don’t fall below grade level again.

Williams said he likes the program because instead of people reading to students, they’re having the students read and work on comprehension and sentence structure. He said reading to students can never hinder their progress with reading, but with MRC the lessons are tailored to help students quickly catch up to their grade level.

MRC has recently started their largest recruiting effort ever and are trying to get more than 900 tutors across the state, according to a press release. Esterby said he’s glad the number of tutors in the district is expanding because of the connection they make with students.

Tutors commit to 11 months of service beginning in August and receive a living allowance, an education award of up to $5,550 to pay for college or to pay back federal student loans and other benefits. New this year is the option to transfer the education award to a child or grandchild if the tutor is 55 years old or older.

Volunteers needed

New to Sibley’s Reading Corps program this year is a volunteer coordinator, Linda Bottelson. Williams applied to MRC to get a coordinator who gets community members to help students with their reading, in addition to the work tutors do with the students.

Williams said Sibley’s utilized volunteers who read to students before, but now they help volunteers use interventions with students, which can make it feel like the volunteer is helping them accomplish something.

“There’s more of a purpose,” Williams said.

Volunteers are able to use strategies from MRC, and Bottelson said they’re always looking for more people from the community who want to help students read at grade level.

“They have made remarkable differences in students’ lives this year,” Bottelson said.

Teachers help Bottelson know which students need help and which interventions might work best for them, and then Bottelson matches students with volunteers.

“They make an impact on the students one word at a time,” Bottelson said.

Bottelson can be contacted at 507-379-5132 for more information about volunteering, and more information about MRC can be found at