Closing Minnesota's Education Gap: How you can help

Published: May. 9, 2019 at 3:09 PM CDT
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"Every day the kids are running up to me and hugging me. They see me at the grocery store and then run up to me and give me hugs or they're yelling across the aisles, 'Mom! There's Mrs. Knutson!' So it's rewarding in every aspect of my life," says Shannon Knutson, a JumpStart Teacher and a Minnesota Reading Corps tutor.

Knutson says working with kids is rewarding - and seeing them succeed is the most satisfying part of her job. A lot of that growth is thanks to her role as a tutor in AmeriCorps' Reading Corps program.

"It's been just remarkable to see how far they've come," she says. "My kindergarten teachers know if they're coming from us, that they are ready for kindergarten. They're going to succeed, they're going to be able to make those kindergarten benchmarks – which then they're going to lead into first grade and all the way through high school to be college ready."

"We strive to make sure all students are up to grade level and have the skills they need to succeed in life," says Carolyn Griffin, a Program Manager with Minnesota Reading & Math Corps. "We only use strategies that we know and have been proven to work."

A federal study finds that Pre-K students enrolled in the program were more prepared for kindergarten than their peers. They also outperformed other students in basic reading skills - like recognizing letter sounds, identifying rhyming sounds, and alliterations.

And in a state with a large achievement gap like Minnesota - the program is even more valuable.

"One in three students are struggling to read at grade level right now," Griffin says. "We're working to bridge that gap and give those students the skills that they need."

But now, it needs your help. Minnesota's Reading Corps program is looking for nearly 20 new tutors in Moorhead alone -and hundreds across the state.

"We do all of the training and so we don't need any specialized skills," says Griffin. "18 years or older, have a high school diploma or GED, and then be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident."

"Everybody can be a part of that. It can be your neighbor, it can be a retiree, a recent college grad, a mom who's at home – or a dad – and now their kids are in school. So there's so many opportunities for everyone to get involved and they all help the kids," Knutson says. "I'm a mom as well and I've used all of the Americorps stuff that I've learned on my own kids. I have young kids and older kids as well and I'm using it on all of them."

"Eleven months of service is all that we ask for for a commitment – so it's basically just a school year, from August until June," Griffin adds.

And tutors say helping kids now not only impacts their present and their future, but yours as well.

"The kids need us. The kids are our future – they need us. We are building the building blocks for the rest of these kids' schooling and later on in life as well. So if we can give them the benefit of knowing your letters, knowing how to write them, knowing the sounds, being able to rhyme, being able to use alliteration in everyday circumstances – we're giving these kids the building blocks for our future," says Knutson.

Program leaders say becoming a tutor also comes with perks - like childcare assistance, professional development opportunities, and more.

"We're an AmeriCorps program, so they're service positions. And so basically, we offer a living stipend – that's a bi-weekly living allowance that folks get every two weeks. And then we also offer an education award at the end of their service," Griffin says. "Plus we offer health insurance and things like that."