Stories of Service


By: Shayla Thiel Stern


‘I Really Love Math Corps’: A Bemidji Tutor’s Journey to AmeriCorps Service

Bradi Kirkpatrick’s discovery of her AmeriCorps service position was very much a “right time, right place” experience.

But Bradi’s discovery that her service in Minnesota Math Corps at Bemidji Middle School in Bemidji was actually love.

A Post-College Life in China

Her journey started in 2007. As a recent college graduate with a degree in theatre and a minor in art history, Bradi decided to move to China to teach English and drama to students there. She spent five years in China – working, having an adventure and learning the culture in a variety of ways, including through volunteering at a Chinese orphanage. The orphanage led her to her next life stage: Parenthood.

“While at that orphanage, I met this little girl and we just fell in love,” she said. The girl, now known as Chloe, was 7 when Bradi – with help from her parents and brother in Bemidji – adopted her and brought her home to Bemidji to live. Although Chloe refers to Bradi as “Mom,” Bradi says her whole family truly adopted her. They now live next door to one another.

Family in Bemidji

 She said coming home to Bemidji was both a wonderful and stressful time.

“Chloe was integrating into the community and the school, and she didn’t speak a lick of English and also had some health issues that we had to address – including spina bifida and club feet that required surgeries,” she said, noting that she spent her time parenting and after some time, decided to get an associate’s degree in Medical Business Office Management by taking online courses, which she completed in 2015.

“The medical field is fairly large in Bemidji and at that time, I really just needed to be able to do something that seemed marketable — but I just wasn’t feeling passionate about it,” she said. ”I was just not feeling it at all, but I started job hunting in that field, and that’s when I saw the advertisement for Reading Corps, which was far more interesting to me than the medical field. That was when I applied to AmeriCorps.”

Bradi knew she would need continued flexibility with Chloe, especially in the evenings, so the daytime service seemed like a good fit. Plus, she had a realization about her life priorities.

“The position was something education-focused because I think that’s where my passion lies, and it was also something that matched up with my family. Over and over again what has become clear to me is just how important my family is to me,” Bradi said. “I moved across the world from them, and I came back. I now live right next door to them.”

Reading Corps to Math Corps

In 2016-17, Bradi served as an AmeriCorps member in Reading Corps at Central Elementary School in Bemidji. After a year of Reading Corps service, she decided to switch to Math Corps. From August 2017 until June 2019, she served as a tutor for sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in Bemidji Middle School.

In addition to being able to serve in the school that her daughter attends, Bradi said that she has been more excited about her service in Math Corps because she “loves” serving middle schoolers.

“Kids this age to me, are far more fun than little kids. Their sense of humor is great, they’re still willing to be silly, and because it’s one on two kids, they are also willing to be a little bit vulnerable,” she said. “I would not want a full classroom of 12 or 13-year-olds all at once, but two of them – which is how it works in Math Corps — is brilliant. They can be so sweet. They will tell you they like coming to Math Corps.”

Bradi acknowledges that math was one of her best subjects growing up, but also notes that good Math Corps tutors do not have to consider themselves to be “math people.” In fact, not thinking of yourself as a math person may be a strength in a lot of ways.

“If you don’t know how to do something, and you have to learn how to do that, it’s sometimes easier to learn to teach them because you just learned how to do it, too,” she said. “But everything that you do as a tutor is something you practice more and more, and by the time you have tutored in Math Corps a few times, you become a strong math person.”

What’s Next?

Although Bradi recently finished serving four terms in AmeriCorps (which is the maximum number of terms members are allowed to serve), she said she wished she could serve in Math Corps another year or more.

“I really love Math Corps,” she said. “I really, really just honestly love Math Corps.”

Fortunately, though, Bradi is currently in another position that suits her perfectly: A Field Recruiter for Reading and Math Corps for the Bemidji area. Now she can invite others to fall in love with Math Corps, too.

— Shayla Thiel Stern

Do you want to learn more about how to serve in Minnesota Reading Corps or Math Corps? We have positions in Bemidji and across the entire state. Apply today

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