By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
The Little Falls Schools are again implementing the Minnesota Reading Corps in its curriculum for students ages 3 – third grade. The Corps is an AmericaCorps program that provides trained literacy tutors for students.
The Minnesota Reading Corps began in 2003 and early on, the results showed how effective it was in teaching older children fluency and comprehension in reading and teaching younger children vocabulary, letter naming, rhyming and alliteration, skills needed to become successful readers.
This year Little Falls has accepted three tutors to work in its schools. Elly Tepley lives in Swanville and has returned for her third year. She works with 19 students in grades K – 3.
“I strive to have my students reach prescribed goals for each grade such as third graders must meet or exceed reading 118 words per minute by the end of the school year,” said Tepley. “I am helping the kids build comprehension, fluency and confidence in their reading.”
Tepley works with students who have not met target benchmarks through tests taken three times a year. If a student meets the benchmarks, they graduate and another student takes their place.
Sarah Rustad lives in Little Falls and works with preschool children at Lincoln Elementary School. This is her first year with the program and was convinced to apply for the position by second grade teacher Lisa Kapsner.
“I really like the program. The results are phenomenal, exceeding what I expected,” she said. “I have one reader now and several on the way.”
Kayla Mammenga lives in St. Cloud and is a graduate from the University of Minnesota with a degree in early childhood. She is working at Lindbergh Elementary School with preschool students.
“I wanted a preschool experience before getting a ‘real’ job,” she said. She was convinced to apply by first grade teacher Mary Hanson.
Rustad and Mammenga work with all children enrolled in preschool and operate closely with the teacher, reinforcing those teachings through Tier 1 programs.
If some children are struggling with vocabulary, letter naming, sounds, rhyming or alliteration, they work with both Rustad and Mammenga in small groups, called Tier 2. Each group of children will work on the same tasks.
If more work is needed, the child will work in a one-on-one setting (Tier 3) with their tutor.
The preschoolers do a form of journaling with pictures and letters.
“Those children who have parents who participate actively have taken off in their reading and other skills,” said Rustad.
Each of the Reading Corps tutors stressed the importance of parents reading to and with their children.
“Have your children hold the books and learn to be respectful of them,” said Rustad. “Give positive feedback for everything they notice or say. Even if they are wrong, correct them, but still give positive feedback. They will then want to ask more questions and continue to learn.”
“Ask about their day and encourage them to ask questions. Many children don’t know the difference between questions and answers,” said Tepley.
Tepley puts together a binder for her students to bring home and read three times to a family member. That person signs off on the daily homework before it’s returned to the school.
“There is a huge difference between the children who read at home and those who don’t,” she said.
“The preschoolers also sing rhyming and alliteration songs to reinforce their learning,” said Mammenga. “Parents will tell me they sing the songs at home, too. At school we are incorporating play with learning.”
As members of the Minnesota Reading Corps, the three must also put in 360 hours of community service during the school year. They have worked with family fun nights at the school on Saturdays and have tutored students in reading in other districts.
Mammenga said she now knows she wants to work with preschool kids as a career.
Rustad is hoping to get a job with Little Falls schools as a paraprofessional and Tepley said she will be back for a fourth year this fall.