By Audrey Suker
As AmeriCorps celebrates its 20th anniversary, it’s exciting to reflect on what the authors of the National Community Service Trust Act imagined for the power of national service. They believed that service should be an innovative public-private partnership, and Minnesota Reading Corps is bringing that vision to life.
Reading Corps, a strategic initiative of ServeMinnesota and AmeriCorps, is an early literacy program that is changing academic outcomes for thousands of students in urban, suburban, and rural settings. This breakthrough program began in 2003, serving just 250 children. Today, it is one of the nation’s largest AmeriCorps programs, with nearly 1,200 members serving 30,000 children annually – large enough to move the needle on improving third-grade reading proficiency on a significant scale.
AmeriCorps members use the most effective literacy practices to provide hands-on support for struggling readers. Reading Corps consistently delivers impressive results. Preschool participants outperform their peers in kindergarten readiness assessments, and kindergartners-third graders make more than a year’s worth of literacy progress. Perhaps most importantly, students who have Reading Corps are three times less likely to be referred to special education.
These achievements wouldn’t be possible without public-private partnerships. From the beginning, individuals, businesses, and nonprofits joined together to ensure that this proven model was available to more children every year. With extraordinary partners like Target and United Way, we are advancing thought leadership, policy, and philanthropy focused on third-grade reading. Thanks to their investments, the program has helped more than 100,000 students advance their literacy skills.
'I’m no good at reading'
One such student is Garrett, a quiet third grader, who was anxious about his reading abilities.
On the first day of school, he came to my desk and said, ‘I just want you to know that I’m pretty good at math, but I’m no good at reading.’” said Emily Nebben, his teacher. “It was heartbreaking for me.”
Garrett’s parents had placed him in several different programs and worked with him every night – but didn’t see improvement until he started working with his Minnesota Reading Corps tutor. Then there was no holding him back. Everyone saw the transformation – especially his teacher.
I just saw him bloom from that first day, like you would not believe,” said Nebben. “His confidence, his demeanor, the way he held his whole body — He was a different kid. Like caterpillar to butterfly.”
Program Spreads to Other States
More than two-thirds of fourth-grade students nationwide — as many as 6 million children — do not read at their grade level. By harnessing the power of national service and public-private partnerships, Reading Corps benefits thousands of children just like Garrett. It is an integrated part of Minnesota’s literacy strategy and has been adopted in seven additional states and Washington, DC.
A recent study from the University of Chicago’s Opinion Research Center found that Reading Corps is highly replicable and “can be transformed into a model for other successful reading tutoring programs.”
Bolstered by private support, Reading Corps illustrates the bold vision for AmeriCorps service and is poised to meet the growing needs of students and schools nationwide.
Thanks to Target for funding Reading Corps expansion in Colorado and Washington, DC. Audrey Suker is the CEO of Serve Minnesota.