Reading is everything
MORRIS - There will always be debate about which subject is most important for a school child to learn, but there is no questioning that reading is the most vital skill. Without it, they are lost in education.
Enter Minnesota Reading Corps, a statewide program designed to make students successful readers by the end of 3rd grade. MRC was a pilot project of the AmeriCorps program and is now one of its largest programs in the U.S. More than 400 sites in Minnesota employ trained Reading Corps literacy tutors. Nancy Stobel and Susan Enzminger were Reading Corps tutors in the Morris Area School District for the 2010-2011 school year, both taking on different roles within the program.
Nancy is a 2005 Chokio-Alberta graduate and a Dec. 2009 graduate of Minnesota State-Moorhead with a degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education. She student taught in the Wheaton school district, which had a Reading Corps program.
"I saw it working for the students there and I knew it would be a great program to get into," said Strobel, whose mother, Diane, is a pre-school teacher in Morris.
Reading Corps tutors work full- or part-time, depending on the need in the school, and work in pre-school programs or kindergarten through 3rd grade programs.
Tutors receive a stipend, an education award, on-going training and other benefits to work with children on literacy's "Big 5": conversation skills, vocabulary, book and print rules, phonological awareness and the alphabet.
"It's great training as a teacher," Nancy Strobel said. "You get a year of experience, and Reading Corps is great for reading. It does wonders for kids."
Tutors work just below the students grade level in an effort to get them up to speed by the end of 3rd grade. That's an important level, Strobel said, because learning after that point leans more toward content and comprehension.
"Reading is everything - it's the basis of all education," Strobel said. "It's hard to learn any other subject matter if you don't have the basic reading skills."
Strobel works with students one-on-one for a set time each week while Enzminger works in Diane Strobel's pre-school classroom among the entire group of students.
The Reading Corps tutors work closely with the teaching staff to assess progress or lack of progress and tailor the program to each child.
"You are really accepted as part of the staff rather than another helper," Nancy Strobel said. "Being on the other end - the teacher's end - and seeing the improvement the students made, I was impressed." Nancy Strobel said she won't be back in the program this coming year but that it was an invaluable experience for her future career ambitions.
"I gained so much information about reading deficiencies," she said. "I can pick them out quicker and develop tools to deal with them."
Enzminger said she had plans to become a teacher as a youth but that goal was put on hold once she married and had kids.
Later, she was apprehensive about spending the time and money to go to college to know if teaching was her true ambition. The Reading Corps program was perfect for her.
"It's a totally new venture for me, and it's been awesome," Enzminger said. "I'm too old to waste years and money on college if this wasn't something I wanted to do. I don't have to spend money on schooling to find out what I like in the classroom."
But Enzminger found out working in Reading Corps that the classroom is where she wants to be. She'll work in the program at Morris Area Elementary School again this year - tutors can spend three years in the program - and then take a look at possibly going to college.
Enzminger is "embedded" in the classroom but may pull a student out for five or 10 minutes of one-on-one exercises if needed. It's a difficult age to predict results because there is so much learning the students are doing at that age, aside from academics, Enzminger said.
"Kids learn in chunks and it's all new to them so it takes time before they are fluent," Enzminger said. "You hit on all these things, but when the light goes on is hard to predict. It's hard for the students to get it and by the end of the year, it's snap, snap, snap."
Enzminger's work and training has helped her at home, as well. For example, through the program she learned that a chemical released in the brain when a child is under stress effectively shuts down the learning area of the brain.
"If kids are stressed, they're not learning," said Enzminger, who has five children ages 20, 19, 13, 10 and 7. "I learned that through my training and it's helped in the job and it's helped me with my own kids and myself."
Nancy Strobel is setting out to settle into a new career. Enzminger became a grandmother in March. Both found fulfillment, personally and professionally, in Reading Corps.
"It's been a really great experience," Enzminger said. "I've learned so much and I think I've really grown within the job."