“We’re not just talking about it, we’re doing it,” said Kathy Saltzman, executive Director of Minnesota Reading Corps, describing the success of the Minnesota Reading and Math Corps. A former state senator, she recalls many policy conversations on how to shrink the achievement gap. In her current role, policy becomes practice. “We have 800 people on the ground working on this through national service,” she said. The Corps hopes to fill all those positions this fall as they recruit throughout the state.
The Minnesota Reading Corps pairs literacy tutors with pre-K through third grade students who are in danger of failing. Through short daily sessions and teaching strategies backed up by data indicators, literacy tutors use the science of reading and research to give students extra support. Tutors and coaches tailor strategies to the needs of each student. In addition to site coaches, master coaches help establish a strong support and knowledge base for tutors, parents, and students. Math Corps, a newer and smaller program, uses the same model and works with students from fourth through eighth grades.
Literacy tutors, full-time or part-time, are paid a modest stipend for an 11-month service commitment. They can twice qualify for an additional educational credit of up to $5,550 per year, which can be applied to student loan debt, tuition, or be passed on to a family member if the tutor is over 55. Each tutor can participate for up to four years and there are limited benefits for full time tutors. Participants are a broad spectrum — current and past students, retired teachers and other retirees, active classroom parents, and people in career transition.
Tammy Nelson, a recent master’s degree graduate and starting her second career, has worked with young people for years, but is new to the program. Nelson wants the practical experience and connecting with other educational professionals. According to Saltzman, while many join to help students learn, most find positive change in their own lives. Tiah Colacci, a program veteran, says the experience made her realize she wants a future in education. She is now pursuing a master’s degree and tutoring part-time; this is her third year of service.
“It’s great to watch the changes as intervention strategies work,” said Colacci. “As a tutor, I see a student improve and their confidence grow in every subject. Watching it all click, watching them grow as students, and being a part of that growth is what made me realize that I need to work in education.”