Amy Liebelt became a Reading Corps tutor at Tri-City United Lonsdale Elementary to be a part of her children’s school. Instead, she said, she's gained much more than she could have imagined.

“The light in children's eyes when they realize what they can do is an amazing thing to see,” Liebelt said. “When children tell you that they enjoy reading now because they understand what they are reading is so awesome. I love working in the school, alongside so many other amazing teachers and staff and make a difference in all children's lives. This school year is coming to an end, but I will be back next school year to make a difference.”

Sue Adams, a tutor at Lincoln Elementary in Owatonna, joined the Reading Corps program this academic year. The “clincher” for her was learning that students who graduate from the program and reach the benchmarks for reading have better success not only in high school but college as well.

“I’m amazed by the program, and as I learn more about how the program works, I’m more confident with doing the interventions,” Adams said. “At first I didn’t know what to expect, but the other tutor who was here last year was a big help and so were the internal coaches. I had the help I needed.”

Liebelt, Adams and other AmeriCorps tutors around the region, including TCU Lonsdale Math Corps tutor Heidi Mullen, devote four years to helping elementary school children improve their literacy or math skills through 20-minute one-on-one interventions. About two thirds of students K-12 are struggling with math or reading, according to AmeriCorps.

Area schools now seeking Reading and Math Corps tutors include those in Northfield, Faribault, Nerstrand, Waseca and Owatonna. Besides the benefits of helping youngsters, tutors are paid and receive extra money for college or student loans, health insurance and more.

Making gains

A 2018 independent study of the Minnesota Reading Corps, conducted by the NORC at the University of Chicago over the course of a full school year, showed “the program makes a significant impact on the literacy skills of students — equating our readers’ gains to half to almost a full year’s worth of extra school.”

During this school year, Reading Corps tutors served 24 students and the Math Corps served 27 at TCU Lonsdale. Tutors worked with students through all three learning models the school provided during the pandemic this year.

“It has been a year like no other, from in-person learning to distance learning to hybrid learning,” Liebelt said. “The students I have served this year have kept with it, and we have made progress in which I am so proud.”

Adams said she was nervous at first to complete the interventions online, but students responded well, and some even taught her a thing or two about online meetings. Now back to in-person instruction, she and another Reading Corps tutor at Lincoln Elementary, Jessica Bunn, both meet with 13 to 14 students per day.

At Lincoln, students in kindergarten through third grade are eligible for the program. Students who have learning disorders like dyslexia, or who speak English as a second language, receive more in-depth coaching from tutors who specialize in those areas but may join the Reading Corps program if they meet prior benchmarks, Adams explained.

According to Kristin Schlingman, intervention teacher at TCU Lonsdale, Reading Corps tutors do different research-based fluency interventions with students based on their needs. Letter sound correspondence, phonemic awareness interventions, news caster, duet reading, word construction, pencil tap and repeated reading are all methods these literacy tutors apply.

During Math Corps lessons, tutors offer small group learning interventions and focus on a concept-based learning approach to help students understand different math concepts. That includes place value, addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, and fractions.

School buildings that offer Reading and Math Corps programming have internal coaches who work with teachers to identify students who may benefit from tutor sessions, based on data work and teacher recommendations, Schlingman said.

Adams said she believes in the program, not only because she's witnessed students' becoming more confident in their reading, but also because they've expressed more interest in picking out more difficult books at the library. She said her students are eager to find out what happens next in the books they read, so she writes down their predictions if they don’t have time to finish the book in one sitting.

“My wish would be, after being part of the program, that all the students would have it at all the elementary schools for whoever needed it,” Adams said.

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved. 

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