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Reading Corps tutors help MAES students master reading skills

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MORRIS - About one-fifth of Minnesota third graders fail to reach a basic level of literacy. One of the major goals of the Minnesota Reading Corps program is to be sure that all students are successful readers by the time they leave third grade, the year when students shift from learning to read to reading to learn.

In the 2011-2012 school year, Morris Area Elementary School had one full-time and one half-time Reading Corps tutors that are placed in districts through the AmeriCorps program.

This year, the school has two full-time tutors working with students in kindergarten through third grade - Kilo Dunn and Chelsea Petsch - and two tutors (one full-time and one half-time) working with preschool students - Lorie Hansen and Melissa Johnson.

Both Dunn and Hansen are working with Reading Corps for the second year in a row.

"For one site to be able to be granted two full-time members or even one full-time and one half-time is a huge thing," said Dunn.

The grant money that supports the Reading Corps program is allotted to schools that demonstrate a need and schools that demonstrate they will be able to implement the program effectively.

Students who work with a Reading Corps tutor are identified though the regular assessments the district administers. The assessments help identify students who are slightly under the target reading level for their age, but not being tutored through Title 1 or special education programs - "Kids who, if not for us, would be lost in the gap," explained Dunn.

Right now, about 40 students in kindergarden through third grade are participating in the program. Every student meets with a Reading Corps tutor for about 20 minutes each day - some alone and some in pairs - to work on specific reading skills like letter names and sounds or word blending or reading exercises to improve speed and comprehension.

Pre-K tutors do some short reading interventions with students in the gap, but also work with all students on reading skills and vocabulary for a time during each class.

"We work very closely with teachers to make sure the interventions we're doing with students match up with that student," said Dunn. "It's really nice to have that collaboration and cooperation."

For the Reading Corps tutors, the reward of the program is working with the students.

"I love seeing the kids progress from fall to spring, it's awesome," said Hansen.

"Seeing the difference you're making in [a student's] life is something that makes you feel good inside," added Petsch. "They come in saying they can't do it, and they might have struggled with reading but by the time you get a week into it, their reading skills have improved so they feel good about themselves."