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December 16, 2016

Totino-Grace students give back

Reading Partners has volunteers from many different backgrounds: retirees, college students, working adults, and more, all dedicated to improving reading skills for K-5 students in Minneapolis and St. Paul. For the students at Totino-Grace High School, their dedication to the community starts early in their high school careers.

In its second year in the Twin Cities, Reading Partners expanded to five new schools in the 2016-17 school year, including Ascension Catholic School in north Minneapolis. Ascension is a private, Catholic school serving a very diverse population: 96 percent of students at Ascension are students of color (Latino, African Immigrant, African-American, Hmong), 27 percent are English Language Learners, and 67 percent are non-Catholic. The need for a program like Reading Partners was clear for a school focused on academic excellence: more than half of Ascension’s students are not reaching grade-level proficiency in reading.

Reading Partners’ community-driven focus to improving reading was a natural fit for the mission, vision, and values of Totino-Grace, a Catholic high school located in Fridley. Reading Partners was initially connected to Totino-Grace through Ascension staff, as many students from Ascension go on to attend Totino-Grace to continue their education. From the initial meetings, administrators at Totino-Grace were supportive of partnering their students with children in the Reading Partners program at Ascension.

“Volunteering is not a separate requirement for students at Totino-Grace,” according to Andrew Million, the campus minister at Totino-Grace. “Our commitment to community is woven into all aspects of their education here.”

The dedication to this partnership started with the school’s administration and continued with the energy of it’s students.

“I was blown away by how willing these high school students were to tutor a child for a year at Ascension. They were so earnest and excited to help,” said Ini Augustine, AmeriCorps volunteer coordinator at Reading Partners. “Close to 50 high school students attended info sessions we held at the school. Twenty-six of those students chose to complete the application process and serve as reading partners for students at Ascension,” she added.

According to a study conducted by the MDRC, the relationship between students and tutors is key to improving confidence and achieving results. That’s why each Totino-Grace student volunteer works one-on-one with an Ascension Elementary student on reading for one hour each week. Through the consistent time they spend together week-after-week, Ascension students form a special bond with their tutors as they reach their reading goals together.

Ellie Patterson, Reading Partners’ AmeriCorps site coordinator at Ascension, has seen positive effects on the elementary students, but also opportunities for Totino-Grace students to grow through the experience. “Every time they come to Ascension, they improve as tutors which shows they care about the success of the students. The Ascension students are always excited to come to tutoring and have the attention of the Totino-Grace students, whom they look up to. I love to have them come in because I know the students will have a great session and be ready to learn with the ‘cool’ high schoolers.”

Totino-Grace and Ascension students are united as a community focused on academic excellence, generosity, and service. Through their participation in Reading Partners, they are putting those values into action and building a stronger future full of dedicated mentors and lifelong readers.

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