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Lake Park-Audubon working for great readers

Lake Park-Audubon Elementary school teachers and students are participating in the Minnesota Reading Corps for the second year. Ashley Sleen, left, works with children throughout the school year to improve their reading skills.

Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School is in its second year of providing the Minnesota Reading Corps for children in grades kindergarten through third grade.

LPA has two half-time members this year, and they work with children to give them the boost they need to become successful readers. Ashley Sleen and Danielle Elker have been working with children throughout the 2009-2010 school year as tutors with the Minnesota Reading Corps Program.

"Ever try to win a race when you're in the middle of the pack? That's what some of our youngest Minnesotans face every day when they come to school and are struggling to read. Minnesota Reading Corps is making a difference helping students, those who need extra help to reach the finish line," states MRC materials.

Some startling statistics about Minnesota school children include:

n "50% of children entering kindergarten are not ready."

n "12,000 third graders are not reading at grade level."

n "Poor literacy skills correlate with high drop-out rates, poverty, and unemployment."

Lake Park-Audubon Elementary school, with the help of Minnesota Reading Corps, is doing something to assure that the students in their school do not become a part of these statistics.

That is why Kindergarten teacher Laurie Mattson says, "Being in Minnesota Reading Corps doesn't mean a student is really struggling. They are very close to where they need to be, so the program is simply a positive boost in confidence and provides extra time to develop concrete reading skills."

This reading intervention program has a proven record of success. Seventy-four percent of Reading Corps participants passed the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests statewide. All LPA third graders that participated in the program reached the proficiency level or above on their MCA's last year.

Reading Corps members provide instruction that compliments instruction given in the regular classroom. It provides children with 100 extra minutes a week of one-on-one instruction that would not otherwise be available.

Both Sleen and Elker work with eight to nine students daily, in 20-minute increments, in order to increase each student's fluency; that is, rate, accuracy, and expression of reading. It is their goal to help students read more automatically.

A perfect analogy is made by LPA's school psychologist, Mark Everson: "While driving a car, students will enjoy the ride and scenery much more if they know how to operate the car without the trouble of fiddling with the gears." One student says, "I like practicing with you, so I can read faster at home."

Depending on the specific needs of the child, the members choose activities, called interventions, to practice reading skills. They range from practicing letter sounds to improving comprehension.

When asked how he feels about "passing" an activity, one student said, "I feel excited, because we get to go on. If I don't pass it, it's okay, because it is just practice."

Every single day, this student is eager to start the tutoring session.

The members also monitor each student's progress weekly to be sure they are making appropriate gains and to decide if a change in intervention is needed.

Second grade teacher, Stephanie Schoenfelder quotes, "I am grateful that members follow up with students who have exited the program to make sure no one is slipping through the cracks."

To Minnesota Reading Corps, it is important to keep students' progress in sight. As Schoenfelder reviews graphs charting the progress of her own 2nd graders, she says, "They have made major improvement. The strategies are working."

One of the great aspects of the MRC program is that members work at the school without cost to the district. The members receive training, a living allowance, and an educational stipend to defray college expenses.

These expenses are paid for through Americorps, of which Minnesota Reading Corps is a part. Both of LPA's members this year are college graduates, with elementary teaching degrees.

Sleen says of serving with the Minnesota Reading Corps, "The outcomes are so rewarding; it is my favorite part to get to know the students and to see them find their confidence in reading."

Elker is committed to MRC because, "Truly, no child in our care is left behind. The program is organized in such a way so we can reach as many students as possible. I love having those 'Ah-ha' moments, too."

Next year, the Minnesota Reading Corps program will continue at Lake Park-Audubon Elementary. Anyone interested in applying should contact Sam Skaaland, LPA principal, or apply online at