Minnesota has some of the highest reading achievement rates in the nation, however it also has a wide achievement gap. Nearly 1 in 3 Minnesota third-graders – more than 25,000 per year – read below basic levels. Equity in literacy is a statewide priority, and Minnesota has been slowly moving the needle toward its goal. While many people see tough challenges ahead, Sadie O’Connor, vice president of Reading Corps National Replication, sees opportunity and potential.
O’Connor’s optimism is fueled by the positive outcomes she has seen in classrooms, and more recently, family child care centers across the state. Through Minnesota Reading Corps, a project funded by the federal AmeriCorps program and administered by ServeMinnesota, children at more than 700 early education and child care programs, as well as elementary schools in the state are given access to literacy tutors who also build the capacity of caregivers to teach this foundational skill. ServeMinnesota is an umbrella organization that administers a portfolio of 12 AmeriCorps programs with more than 1,500 members who address needs such as educational achievement, economic opportunity and environmental protection.
In 2014, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Minnesota Reading Corps launched its first program in licensed family child care settings, which are the largest providers of child care services in the state. In 2012, the most recent report available indicates that the state is home to 10,800 licensed family-based child care programs, compared to 2,162 licensed center-based child care programs.
“A longtime dream of ours was to expand our Minnesota Reading Corps model, which has successfully helped teachers and educate children in center-based programs, into family-based child care,” O’Connor said. “We wanted to transform how child care providers saw themselves and their abilities to educate children by providing them with a model that advanced their early learning practices.”
The program connects communities, empowers providers and caregivers and applies data and proven best practices to improve the lives of children and families across the state. Reading Corps members, a school internal coach, master coach and tutors each play an important role in ensuring that both students and children in less formal educational settings receive quality and individualized instruction that advances their literacy skills and moves them closer to meeting their third-grade literacy goals.
“We know there is a great need and opportunity (in child care programs) for a significant impact on children,” O’Connor said. “Already we are seeing improvements in both children and providers.”
Since 2003, Minnesota Reading Corps has helped more than 150,000 students progress toward reading proficiency and trained more than 1,200 teachers and caregivers at 740 public schools and Head Start centers throughout the state. A 2015 study showed that students who participated in the Minnesota Reading Corps program were significantly more prepared for kindergarten in terms of five key literacy skills than students without such tutors. These skills include recognizing letter sounds, rhyming words, letter names, picture names and alliterations. The study also found that the tutoring model is replicable in multiple school settings and effective for all students regardless of gender, race/ethnicity or dual-language learner status.
Minnesota Reading Corps’ expansion into family child care settings reaches providers like Trinette Potts, who operates a family child care center in her home. Potts benefits from visits from Sarah Warren, a Reading Corps member, who visits several times a week to teach the children valuable literacy skills through song, reading, writing and other research-driven activities. She also passes along her teaching practices to Potts, so that she can reinforce what the children are learning. The program supports professional development in which caregivers and teachers receive the support and training they need to deliver high-quality early learning for all students.
“Minnesota Reading Corps has given me the training and guidance that allow me to be an educator, not just a baby sitter,” Potts said. “The program provides me with professional resources and makes me feel confident that I am doing what is best to teach the children as well as grow my business.”
By participating in the Reading Corps program and receiving professional development, Potts has increased her quality rating in Minnesota’s Quality Rating and Improvement System known as Parent Aware.
For Warren, the program has given her a meaningful role in her community. “I have a sense of belonging, and I know that the time spent and help I put into child care centers like Trinette’s eventually carries over to the greater community,” she said.
Minnesota Reading Corps collaborates with Head Start programs, public schools, community-based preschools and, now, family child care centers to reach children in multiple settings throughout the state. Across Minnesota, Reading Corps members have demonstrated that they can move the needle despite the inherent challenges that children face in their communities.