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America Reads program fosters community within and beyond the University

Annie Hansen
In 1998, Rosemary Miller, Director of the Literacy Initiative and America Reads literacy tutoring program, established the university-wide tutoring program, which is housed in CEHD. The Literacy Initiative coordinators, collaborating with coordinators from the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence and the University YMCA, train and place 350 undergraduate student tutors annually at 37 sites across St. Paul and Minneapolis. Partnering schools and community centers in the Twin Cities have come to heavily rely on these highly qualified University tutors in schools and after-school programs where children come for help with reading and homework.

Presently, the America Reads program receives $700,000 of federal work-study funding designated for community engagement. This money supports the 150 students hired by the Literacy Initiative, as well as the tutors in the other chapters. These tutors come from colleges across the University and are supervised and mentored as literacy tutors by America Reads coordinators Jennifer Kohler and Ashley Bedard.

Beginning last fall, a one-credit course on tutoring, literacy, and social justice taught by Miller, Kohler, and Bedard became a prerequisite for America Reads tutors. Thus far, the course has been well received by students. It prepares and supports them as they work in challenging environments and guides them in a reflective process that supports the tutoring which they do. Additionally, the course counts toward the service learning credit necessary for students to receive distinction as community engagement scholars.

According to Miller, involvement in the America Reads program gives students hands-on application of what they are learning in their courses. It is encouraging for Miller, Kohler, and Bedard to see University students develop a sense of community through their participation in this program and commit to long-term involvement in community service work. Kohler and Bedard also organize monthly service learning projects for America Reads tutors in order to give them experience in other areas of community engagement within the Twin Cities non-profit service sector. Students who finish their studies often go on to work with Teach for America, AmeriCorps, and Peace Corps.

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