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Where Children Not Only Learn to Read, They Love to Read
Study after study shows: reading by third grade equals success in life. However, an urgent literacy gap faces thousands of early learners across the state. Half of Minnesota’s children are not ready for kindergarten and one in four third graders is not reading at grade level.
Tessa Berens is setting out to conquer that gap, one student at a time. “I’ve been an avid reader my entire life – I know what a difference it makes to have that skill. So many studies show that if you don’t have reading down by third grade, the huge implications that can have on the rest of your education.”
Tessa became a Minnesota Reading Corps member because she fell in love with working with schools and kids struggling to overcome an education gap. “I had a sheltered upbringing and didn’t realize the full effects of the education gap,” she says. “Now I’m witnessing it firsthand.”
The Minnesota Reading Corps, a strategic initiative of ServeMinnesota, blends the people power of AmeriCorps with the science of how children learn to read. It is specifically designed to help children who won’t succeed without an extra boost – those who might fall through the cracks.
The program has grown steadily over the years due to its impressive results. In its sixth year, it is the state’s largest early literacy program, with more than 500 Reading Corps members working with nearly 15,000 students in preschools and elementary schools throughout Minnesota. But beyond the numbers, the Reading Corps is also gaining supporters, from state legislators to national funders who see the power in its replication.
Tessa serves in an elementary school in Bloomington, the largest suburb in the Twin Cities. By working directly with students and teachers, she enhances the classroom experience and provides her students an average of 90 minutes of extra one-on-one tutoring each week.
“They’re learning strategies to help them be successful even when they’re not working with me,” she explains. She also notes that teachers are seeing the difference and want the program to be available to more students.
A consistent theme throughout the program is that the children enjoy the tutoring sessions – they are excited to learn and catch up with their friends. They might not get one-on one time anywhere else, but they receive 20 minutes with a trained reading tutor every day.
One of Tessa’s most memorable moments of the year: “I had one student tell me I’m his favorite – better than recess!” As is the story for so many before her, Tessa’s AmeriCorps experience has shifted her path. “I’ve changed what I want to do with my life. I’m going back to school to become a teacher,” she says. “I’ve learned so much more about the world around me and the real difference one person can make. You can do something!”
Tessa reflects on her AmeriCorps service and, just like reading has, she knows that it will make a lasting impression on her life. “Every sacrifice I’ve made doing service, I’ve gotten back tenfold from the kids and the experience,” she explains. “What a better world we would have if everyone took a year to serve.”