All of the students at Four Seasons A+ Elementary School in St. Paul know Jeannette Ledesma, a Reading Corps internal coach.
That’s because Jeannette, who is 39, has been a fixture in their school since the spring of 2013. It was that year that after spending a brief time living in California, Jeannette decided to move home to St. Paul so that she could spend more time with her family there. The best way of doing that, she thought, was to volunteer at her nieces’ and nephews’ school – Four Seasons. She loved being close to them and giving back to the school, and one day, the following fall, a Reading Corps internal coach approached her and said, “You volunteer here, right? Do you want to get paid for it?”
That was how Jeannette joined AmeriCorps as a tutor in Minnesota Reading Corps.
She was hooked immediately on the Reading Corps approach and particularly loved serving in the kindergarten classrooms there. Reading Corps members work in groups or pairs with kindergarten students, which was part of what drew her to that age group.
“I love that model. I love working with multiple kids at once,” she said. “They aren’t as shy with their friends in that model and they really excel. I wanted to make sure the ones coming in really had a good baseline.”
From Service to a Full-Time Job
She loved her Reading Corps service so much that even after four terms, she was determined to find a way to continue working with that program at Four Seasons. Fortunately, the school leadership was able to hire Jeannette as a full-time teacher assistant. The role places her in the classroom helping teachers but also allows her to serve as an internal coach for Reading Corps members serving in the school and to help with other activities at Four Seasons A+, like helping to coordinate the spring musical.
Jeannette sees the internal coach as a very impactful member of the community and the Reading Corps program. Reading Corps internal coaches are placed in an advisory role within schools where they help the Reading Corps tutors work through issues and assure they are being as effective as possible.
“I was like, ‘I know I want to do this. I love this and I want to help as many kids as possible. You put me in the classroom, I can serve 30 kids. If you put me out of the classroom as a coach, I can help 50 kids. I’ll take the 50,’” she said. She said she spends six to nine hours per tutor per month on her Reading Corps internal coach duties and the rest is assisting her classroom teacher with whatever is needed.
Making Reading Corps and Four Seasons A+ a Family Affair
Jeannette exudes excitement when she talks about AmeriCorps service in Minnesota Reading Corps, and her sense of purpose is contagious: She convinced her younger brother, Ramon, 37, to join her as a Reading Corps tutor at Four Seasons nearly four years ago. This past January, Jeannette and her brother convinced his wife, Elizabeth, to join as well.
And her mom, Lena, became a teaching assistant for the Spanish classes.
Now, the entire Ledesma family (pictured above) is well known at Four Seasons, too.
And Jeannette realized her knack for promoting Reading Corps also made her a perfect recruiter. For the past two years, she has served as recruiter for Reading Corps as well. She said that she tells everyone she meets about how effective the program is, and truly, is more of a very enthusiastic Reading Corps advocate.
Drawing From Her Own Struggles
Jeannette struggled as a student. Diagnosed later in high school with dyslexia, an English teacher helped her realize that she needed different accommodations and learning strategies. After high school, she worked in a variety of jobs while attending college part-time and sporadically. Becoming an AmeriCorps member in Reading Corps gave her the boost she needed to get back to school, and she graduated with a business degree.
But her heart is not in accounting, as she originally planned. It’s in education and specifically, Reading Corps, she said. Jeannette notes that reflecting upon her own experiences has given her an especially important perspective in her service as a tutor and now an internal coach.
“I don’t want kids to have to go through what I had to go through,” she said. “We now have so much that we can do to help, and reading is so important. Reading you will need forever. There’s never a day that you won’t be reading something.”
— Shayla Thiel Stern
Learn more about how to apply to be a Reading Corps tutor.