Nearly a third of the 50 AmeriCorps Reading and Math tutors sworn in Wednesday in Mankato were returning for a third or even fourth year in school districts throughout southern Minnesota.
Marlene Schroeder was one of them. The Mankato resident spent the last two years tutoring kids in the Mankato Area School District; last year she worked with 17 students at Rosa Parks Elementary School. This year she’ll be a math tutor for kids in Lake Crystal. She keeps coming back because she sees firsthand how the program benefits kids struggling with reading and math.
“It’s the results you see in the kids,” Schroeder said. “It’s not only being able to meet the targets that we set, but kids saying ‘I love to read.’ That to me is a success.”
She is one of 850 statewide AmeriCorps reading and math tutors who give kids that extra push to not just read and do math at grade level, but to actually enjoy it. The ceremony in Mankato was one of several scattered throughout different regions of the state. Another is planned for September.
“This is our first year where we have the swear-in ceremony taking place in multiple areas throughout the state. Typically it’s all happened in Minneapolis,” said Becky Otis, Minnesota Reading and Math Corps recruiter.
Otis said there’s a misconception that all AmeriCorps volunteers are college-aged students, when in fact anybody 18 and older can apply. Reading and math tutors have an option to work in local schools between 18 to 35 hours a week.
“We have kids that are just graduating from high school all the way up to people who are retired and ready to give back,” she said.
Megan Peterson, senior manager for the southern Minnesota, which has regional offices in Mankato and Rochester, started out as a Reading Corps tutor in her hometown of Big Lake. After graduating from law school, she realized she didn’t want to be a lawyer, but wanted to give back to her community while considering next steps.
An English major in college, she realized becoming a reading tutor would make a great fit. She volunteered with Reading Corps from 2012-2014 before the organization hired her to oversee operations in southern Minnesota.
During her first year as a Reading Corps tutor, she worked with a second grader who was not particularly enthused about reading when they first met.
“In class his teacher often said he was bouncing off the walls, he couldn’t pay attention and would lose track when he was trying to read,” Peterson said. “When I met him he had this ‘too cool for school’ attitude.”
But as they got to know each other, she began seeing another side to the student, whose eyes would brighten as he advanced. Peterson encouraged him but he would shrug it off, pretending he didn’t care.
Then one day before winter break, the student came into her office and handed her a crumpled note before running to catch his bus home.
“I opened it up and it said, ‘I love you. I feel special when I read to you. I love to read.’”
After that, the student could barely contain his excitement as he updated Peterson on all of the books he was reading, not just for school, but for fun.
“He’d talk so fast he was taking these big gulping breaths to try to get all the words out,” Peterson said. “He successfully completed Reading Corps, he was reading at grade level and he was just so proud. That just really made me want to serve that second year and continue to work with that program.”
Reading and Math Corps tutors serve throughout the state, in cities like Mankato, but also in smaller communities like Pipestone and New Prague.
Schroeder said AmeriCorps staff have gone out of their way to prepare her and other volunteers for what to expect in the classroom as they begin the new school year. Tutors will spend the rest of August in training before classes resume in most districts after Labor Day. Each year, about 75,000 people participate in AmeriCorps programs nationwide.