- Associated Press - Saturday, July 29, 2017

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) - Twenty minutes a day.

Less than two hours a week.

In that time, a Reading Corps or Math Corps tutor can help elementary schools meet grade-level standards.

Tutors target students in the gaps, said Lauren Buckentine, program manager for the St. Cloud Office of Minnesota Reading Corps and Minnesota Math Corps.

Here’s how she describes the gap: The group in the middle - the students who aren’t quite meeting grade-level standards but aren’t so behind they qualify for special education or other services.

These are the kids who would otherwise slip through the cracks. By providing a boost now, they can keep kids at grade level, instead of watching them fall more and more behind.

And it works.

The program is in need of more tutors than it had in the past.

“Schools are seeing the effectiveness of it and they’re adding tutors,” Buckentine said.

The St. Cloud Times reports that nontraditional schools and nonpublic school organizations are starting to use the services, too. Recently, some charter schools in St. Cloud have added Reading Corps as did Reach Up Head Start. There is also a higher need as standards increase, she added.

Also new this year in St. Cloud is a program that puts tutors in home day cares. Minneapolis has had the program for a few years.

“They incorporate literacy from birth to whatever age is at that day care,” Buckentine said.

As of mid-July, Buckentine was looking for more than 100 tutors covering an area from Alexandria east to Cambridge and Isanti, and from Little Falls south to Litchfield.

The programs use the AmeriCorps model to recruit, hire and place tutors. Schools and other groups apply to host tutors. Tutors need only a high school degree and to be 18 years old to apply.

Tutors go through interviews and are screened before going to a four-day intense training in Minneapolis. They also have three one-day training sessions in St. Cloud.

Last year, St. Cloud State University graduate Katie Johnson was one of them. She was looking for a way to spend more time in a school setting while she worked toward her teaching license and started applying for jobs in elementary school education.

“I looked into it more and it was exactly what I wanted to do,” she said.

She was placed at Becker primary school. Johnson and all tutors are taught specific reading or math interventions to try. For example, Johnson likes duet reading, where the child and tutor read every other word.

“We would take turns reading, so I was able to model for them,” Johnson said. “I found it to be very effective.”

The tutor then picks up the pace.

“So she’s pushing them to go faster,” Buckentine said. “The speed that they enhance through, that is just amazing. Their pace really improves.”

Once in the school, tutors test students or go by state test scores to determine who needs the programs.

With some schools, that can be a lot of kids.

“For example, there are some schools where over half the students aren’t meeting target,” Buckentine said. “And then there’s some schools were only 10 percent are not meeting target.”

Math Corps uses MCA scores to identify kids. Pre-K tutors will do whole-group interventions and then pull out the students who need extra help.

At every school there is a coach who works with the tutors, and master coaches who visit schools to lend expertise. Many coaches are former tutors and master coaches tend to be former school administrators. So they come with a lot of experience, Buckentine said.

Last school year, Johnson had a 15-student caseload, seeing each student for about 20 minutes each day. As students improved, they graduated and she took on new cases.

Whether the student is happy about being picked for the program depends.

“I made a point to make it an exciting environment for them,” Johnson said. “There were a few who would maybe need that extra (incentive).”

Buckentine said she’s had tutors tell her about students that graduate from the program wanting to get back into it.

“Or there will be students who never qualified and they’ll be like, ‘can you take me next?’” Buckentine said.

There are plenty of benefits for the tutors, too. Johnson participated for the classroom experience.

“You can make a huge difference in these kids’ lives,” Johnson said. “It was a nice bridge … and transition into my next step.”

She also developed better communication skills, learned how to better interact with teachers and students, about time and behavior management and the everyday work of reading instruction.

Tutors receive a bi-weekly stipend and an education award at the end of the year, which they can apply to school costs or loans.

But tutors come to the program for many reasons. Depending on how many hours they work, tutors can qualify for free health coverage and child care assistance.

Many are retirees from a variety of careers, who can use the education award given at the end of the year for a child or grandchild.

“I have one that was a postal worker,” Buckentine said. “And she found a new zest for life in serving.”

Many tutors end up working as teachers in the schools they worked in and some tutors become Reading Corps coaches. Some are stay-at-home moms that decide to go into teaching after tutoring.

“They haven’t been in the workforce and then they find that’s where their passion is,” Buckentine said. “It’s really fun from my perspective to work with all those different varieties.”

Some tutors teach for the connection.

“We were talking with a member … (he said) hearing the different things from the kids every day and going home with a smile on your face is the most rewarding experience,” Buckentine said. “I hear that a lot - the joy and the smile of working with kids.”

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com

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