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Literacy tutors boost reading skills in students

Some of Perham’s youngest students will be getting an extra leg-up on literacy next year.

Kids in pre-kindergarten through third grade will have the opportunity to work on their reading skills with tutors through the Minnesota Reading Corps. The corps will be providing two tutors at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School, as it has in past years, along with two new tutors at Kids Adventure, a school readiness and early childhood special education program.

Literacy tutors at the elementary school work one-on-one with children in kindergarten through third grade, reading with them for about 20 minutes at a time and regularly evaluating their progress. Tutors help the kids build reading stamina, fluency and accuracy. With younger students, the focus is on beginning reading skills like making letter sounds and blending words together.

“It’s really fun to work with the kindergartners, because they catch up really quickly and it’s fun to see them grow and get better and better,” said Katelynn Gaffaney, a literacy tutor at the elementary school. “With second and third graders, it’s really amazing to see how fast they improve, as far as increasing their accuracy and how many words they can read a minute.”

Even more impressive, added Principal Jen Hendrickson, is how the tutoring builds up a student’s sense of pride and accomplishment.

“For some kids, that individualized time 20 minutes a day gives them the extra practice and help they need, and it builds their confidence,” she said. “They see themselves making gains.”

“It’s definitely a confidence boost,” agreed Gaffaney. “When they see how many more words they’re reading, they start to think ‘I can do this.’”

At the elementary school, all students are assessed for their reading abilities, and the tutors work with those who don’t qualify for intense interventions but could benefit from a little extra help.

In other words, the Reading Corps program “hits a niche,” as Gaffaney put it.

The kids are pulled from their regular classrooms to work with their tutors. Tutors work with as many as 18 students per day, and as students improve, some no longer need the help, and others take their place. By the end of each year, Hendrickson estimated, 50 to 60 kids have been tutored.

With the pre-kindergarten kids, the reading program will work a little differently. The program will be incorporated throughout the day, in the classroom, rather than pulling kids out individually. Reading assessments will be done on the kids, and then smaller groups will be tutored as needed within the classroom setting.

With research showing that literacy skills are crucial from a very young age, Hendrickson said, “It’s exciting, giving some of those kids that extra literacy and vocabulary boost early on, to get them ready for kindergarten.”

According to the Reading Corps, nearly one in three third graders in Minnesota is failing to reach basic levels of literacy. The Minnesota Reading Corps, which is the nation’s largest state AmeriCorps program, strives to improve that statistic. Launched in 2003, the program has grown tremendously; last year, more than 30,000 children were impacted.

The program is offered to schools at low or no cost – schools are responsible for providing a space for tutors, access to a computer, mentoring and supervision, while all other expenses are covered.

“It’s another layer of support for our classroom teachers and students, and families,” said Hendrickson. “It’s another way to give individualized attention outside of the classroom to reach more learners. With funding being the way it is in the state of education, it’s an effective, low-cost intervention to help meet the needs of our kids.”

Tutors generally sign up for an 11-month AmeriCorps service and receive full training, a living allowance and an education award. Perham is seeking four tutors for next school year, to start in August.

For more information, contact Hendrickson at 346-1405.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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