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Minnesota Early-Literacy Initiative Expands to D.C., Denver

An early-literacy program that's been helping Minnesota's youngest students learn to read will be expanded to schools in the District of Columbia and Denver, thanks to a $500,000 corporate grant.

ServeMinnesota, which acts as the state's commission for national and community service, announced Wednesday that it had received the grant from the Minnesota-based Target Corp. to expand its Minnesota Reading Corps into the two cities.

The funding, part of $50 million that Target is donating to schools, educators and nonprofits nationwide, will help boost efforts to make sure that all kids are reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade, according to ServeMinnesota officials.

"Here in Minnesota, nearly half of our children are not ready for kindergarten and one in five 3rd graders are not reading at grade level," the nonprofit organization says in a release. "Research shows that when students get off to a poor start in reading, they rarely catch up and become 'in-school dropouts' as early as 4th grade."

Launched in 2004, the Minnesota Reading Corps is a statewide literacy initiative that uses trained AmeriCorps members to tutor and provide intervention to 3-year-olds to 3rd graders who are at risk for not being able to read at grade level. ServeMinnesota is the state's designated recipient of funding for the AmeriCorps program, and administers 12 AmeriCorps programs involving more than 1,200 members addressing educational, economic and environmental needs.

The Reading Corps operates in preschools, Head Start programs and in kindergarten through 3rd grade classrooms in public elementary schools, said Lisa Winkler, ServeMinnesota's vice president of marketing and communications.

In preschools, corps members work with kids on literacy activities throughout the school day. "Every single activity has a literacy component built into it," Winkler said. At the elementary-school level, tutors pull kids out of class to work one-on-one for 20 minutes each day. "It's a very targeted intervention and very targeted toward each child's needs and abilities," she said.

ServeMinnesota says its early-literacy initiative is showing positive results: More than 80 percent of participants make more than a year's worth of progress, catching up to their peers in reading proficiency, according to the organization.

Currently, the Minnesota Reading Corps operates at more than 450 sites across the state, with nearly 800 AmeriCorps members working with about 18,000 kids. The corps is expected to expand to more than 1,000 members at 500 sites during the next school year.

ServeMinnesota will use the model of its statewide literacy initiative to help the District of Columbia and Denver launch their own programs using AmeriCorps members. ServeMinnesota says it will provide training, guidance and ongoing support to those communities. It plans to work with its counterparts in Washington and Denver to launch early-literacy programs in the fall.

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