ST. PAUL—St. Paul children's author Nancy Loewen found herself in a transition two years ago. She had just become an empty-nester, and she wanted to find something meaningful to do with her time — something she was passionate about.
So when she discovered the Minnesota Reading Corps, Loewen — who has written more than 130 children's books — found an intersection of two of her passions: children and literacy.
Minnesota Reading Corps places trained tutors in child care programs, preschools and elementary schools. Last school year, 30,000 children received one-on-one literacy training for 20 minutes each day.
For the 2018-19 school year, the group is seeking 1,400 tutors, and its counterpart — Minnesota Math Corps — is seeking 300 math tutors. There's a need for 1,700 volunteers in 77 of Minnesota's 87 counties.
Loewen, who in the past two years has worked with children at three home day care progams in St. Paul, helped one boy who struggled with rhyming. They spent most of their time playing games that would help him understand how to rhyme. Finally, something clicked.
"He was giggling in his chair because he knew he was getting the answers right," Loewen said.
Another time, a preschool girl with special needs struggled with alliteration, but reached her goal in one of her final assessments.
"We can't write them off," Loewen said. "Sometimes they just need a little extra support, and they can achieve so much more."
According to the National Early Literacy Panel, 74 percent of children who read poorly in third grade continue to read poorly in high school. Minnesota Reading Corps aims to give children a chance to become proficient readers by the time they reach third grade. In addition, the Minnesota Department of Education says 40 percent of Minnesota eighth-graders fall short of the math proficiency level. So its goal is to help fourth- through eighth-graders become proficient in algebra by the end of eighth grade.
The reading and math corps, with 10 offices across the state — including two in Minneapolis — have worked to increase flexibility for their volunteers. Julia Quanrud, the director of innovation and strategic partnerships for the two groups, said they added a program for babies to 2-year-olds, to suit volunteers who are inclined to work with babies and toddlers. They also made it possible for tutors to work not just full-time, but three days a week or a few hours each morning.
"If people have looked at the program in the past (and decided not to join), it's worth looking into now," Quanrud said.
AmeriCorps, the nonprofit corporation that funds the Minnesota corps, provides incentives for people who choose to become tutors. Volunteers are given a living stipend of $100 to $450 a week, depending on their level of commitment.
Tutors who are paying off student loans can benefit from loan forbearance, which means that they don't have to make loan payments and will be compensated for any interest added to their loans. Plus, at the end of each school year, tutors receive an education award of $3,000 to $6,000, depending on how many hours they worked.
Full-time tutors also qualify for health insurance and, depending on their household income and family needs, can receive child-care assistance.
Potential tutors must participate in a three-and-a-half-day training session to learn the science behind learning and receive additional training during the school year.
Loewen said anyone who might be on the fence about becoming a tutor should "just do it."
"When you're working with really young kids, their brains are forming before your eyes," she said. "You have a chance to make a positive impact on a kid's life."
To learn more
For more information or to apply to be a tutor, go to readingandmath.net or call 866-859-2825.