Mohr finishes AmeriCorps service at Collins-Maxwell

Ronna LawlessStaff Writer
Mohr finishes AmeriCorps service at Collins-Maxwell

For the past two years, Elaine Mohr has served as the Iowa Reading Corps AmeriCorps literacy tutor at Collins-Maxwell Elementary.

Working with students in grades K-3, Mohr helped kids who fall just below proficiency in reading and need a boost to catch up to grade-level reading. “They’re students who are on the bubble,” Mohr said.

Each school day, Mohr spent 20 minutes with each of her 15-16 students. “The 20-minute periods are intense focus on reading skills. It was challenging, but it was rewarding,” Mohr said.

The program started at C-M two years ago when Jaynee Christian, C-M’s Title I teacher, realized there was a need to help students who were just below the required reading levels, but whose reading skills were too advanced to qualify them for her program. Christian contacted the United Way of Iowa, which funds the AmeriCorps Reading Program, a program that began in Minnesota in 2003.

Currently there are 13 states participating in the AmeriCorps Reading Program, and numbers are increasing rapidly. This year Iowa has 58 school districts with 66 tutors participating in the AmeriCorps program, up from 18 districts and 22 tutors last year.

Nationally, only 34 percent of fourth-graders read at a proficient level, Mohr said. In Iowa, 23 percent are not proficient by the fourth grade, and the numbers are worse for third-graders at 35 percent.

“We know that reading by third grade is the gateway to all other learning,” Mohr said. “This is the pivotal point when children make the transition from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn.’”

AmeriCorps statistics show that children who do not have basic reading skills by third grade struggle to catch up in future years.

C-M has seen the difference an Iowa Reading Corps tutor can make. Mohr has a graduation ceremony each time one of her students improves to grade-level proficiency and tests out of her program. This year, she graduated 12 of them from her program. “It’s really rewarding to see them grow and see their progress,” she said.

C-M is now recruiting for the elementary literacy tutor who will serve at the beginning of next school year, starting Sept. 1. The individual must be able to serve through July 31, 2017. Applicants do not need to have a formal degree but should possess a strong interest in education, specifically helping students practice reading skills. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and have at least a high school diploma or GED.

AmeriCorps requires community service, which also counts toward the hours of service. She tutors at home; this summer she plans to have 33 tutoring sessions a week, free of charge. Sessions may even include homemade cookies, Mohr said. She helped with the food pantry and does story time at the Maxwell library.

AmeriCorps provides training to Iowa Reading Corps tutors. Tutors are trained to implement reading strategies that are selected to fit each individual child’s needs. They monitor progress and, perhaps most importantly, help children believe in themselves and their ability to succeed.

“The right person for this position needs to have a genuine love of children and a love of reading,” Mohr said.

In exchange for their service, AmeriCorps members receive a living stipend of about $12,500. Upon completion of their term of service, members are granted an education award projected at $5,775, which may be used to pay for future college expenses or to repay qualified student loans. The education award can also be used for future college expenses of children or grandchildren.

Mohr’s grandkids will benefit from her educational stipends. Her grandson Koleton Goering, who will be in sixth-grade next year, will receive the college-fund stipend from last year’s service. And her granddaughter Kara Goering, who will be in fourth-grade next year, will receive the funds from this year’s work.

For more information, contact Christian at the school or Mohr at 641-385-2446.