Children are inside the classroom having fun and playing games. Throw in some singing, too. What you hear is the sound of young children learning early literacy skills. A new literacy program in progress here is based on a successful literacy intervention program, the Massachusetts Reading Corps, a replication of the Minnesota Reading Corps. The Massachusetts Reading Corps is part of Springfield College AmeriCorps program, a state AmeriCorps program supported by the Massachusetts Service Alliance and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Although new in Springfield, the Minnesota program has a 10-year track record; in essence, it works in providing preschoolers with well-developed reading skills. Cindy Recoulle, assistant vice president of programs for quality assurance here said the program was first brought to her attention by Sally Fuller of the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation. She had heard of the program and wanted to get it up and running in Springfield. Recoulle was invited to view a comprehensive video about the program at Springfield College where AmeriCorps staff  recruit students to serve as AmeriCorps Literacy Tutors and facilitate training on the Reading Corps model.

“I first thought it was too scripted,” she said. “We in early childhood education like to put our own flavor on our teaching,” she laughed. Two years ago, several classrooms at the agency began using the program together with AmeriCorps tutors from Springfield College where Shannon Langone, program director of Springfield College AmeriCorps/Massachusetts Reading Corps and master literacy coach, Elizabeth Miller, were deeply involved in adapting the program to this state and in training tutors. 

The program works like this. Literacy tutors are embedded in pre-K classrooms where they provide literacy-rich, whole-classroom interventions focused on the early literacy skills children need to become successful readers. They also use data to identify children who need more intensive intervention and provide extra support on a regular basis, either in a small group or one-on-one.

Children respond to the program because it incorporates fun, Recoulle said. Learning is imbedded in games, songs and rhyming. It’s a sly and effective way to get children to learn how to read. “They can’t wait to be with their tutor,” Recoulle said, all of whom work the entire academic year with their children. 

Parents are also involved in the process, Langone said. Talk/Read/Write bags are sent home weekly and include a book, dry erase board, journal and writing utensils including crayons and markers. Families are encouraged but not required to read the book with the child who may draw pictures about the book. The bag is returned each week for a new book and associated activities.

Recoulle remains convinced of the efficacy of the program and sees nothing but additional potential for literacy improvement among pre-schoolers. “We saw growth in every child in the program,” Recoulle said, “Even with the gas explosion, and the subsequent one-month gap in the program, every child made improvement.” 

One astute aspect of the Minnesota Reading program is its use of “calming lotion.” No, it’s not a total spa experience, but lotion is provided to children during transition periods where they are shown how to massage their little hands and fingers allowing them to self-relax and to focus on the task at hand. That would be learning.