2012-2013 VISTA Impact Report

Read about the AMAZING impact the 2012-2013 Minnesota Literacy Council VISTAs had in their communities. We are proud to share some of the success stories of our VISTA programming!

In 2012-13, 52 VISTA members served at 41 host sites across Minnesota.
VISTAs supported 3,755 volunteers who collectively gave over 106,400 hours.
VISTAs helped provide literacy services to 22,827 disadvantaged youth and 6,894 adults.
VISTAs established and fostered hundreds of community partnerships.
VISTAs leveraged $208,133 in cash donations, and in-kind donations worth $143,399.
View the one-page impact report for more on the Minnesota Literacy Council VISTA programs in 2012-13.
Read on for selected success stories of individual VISTA projects:


Annie Rowland, serving at Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES) in Saint Paul, worked to establish a new children’s program to serve preschoolers while their parents attend English as a Second Language classes. Annie created an infrastructure of the program and worked to acquire materials, develop a new curriculum, and secure donations. The first term of the Children's Program had a total enrollment of 25 children, which was more than initially expected. 91% of enrolled students made academic improvements. Sandra, a 3 year old, Spanish speaking child, was one of the most frequent attendees of the Children's Program spring term. Thanks largely in part to her high attendance, Sandra made the most progress. This progress was not only seen in the improvement of her literacy skills, but also in her social skills. The first week of the program, Sandra cried every day upon separating from her mother, and was too timid and shy to talk to the teachers or socialize with the other children. However, day by day, Sandra came out of her shell and began participating in the games and activities with enthusiasm, and also started to form friendships with other children in the program. She also initiated conversations with the teachers and eventually became quite talkative and excited to share her ideas and stories. According to post-assessment results, Sandra's social skills increased by 47% and her cognitive skills increased by 42%. She is a much more outgoing, social, and enthusiastic girl after participating in the Children's Program. Annie's efforts to create an effective school readiness program no doubt contributed greatly to Sandra's improvements.



Joni Wethall, serving at Urban Ventures Learning Lab, recruited 121 volunteers to work with children and youth in the Learning Lab program. Due to an increased number of volunteers with the middle school group, the teacher of the group was able to set up a mentoring program with her students. This mentoring program allowed 13 middle school students to get individualized tutoring. One student involved was 5 grade levels behind in both math and reading at the beginning of the school year. Since being tutored one-on-one, the student has advanced three grade levels in both academic areas. Without an increased number of volunteers, a one-on-one tutoring program would not be possible.


Sean Sweat, serving at Hospitality House Youth Development (HHYD), developed reading and writing programs for children in HHYD’s afterschool programs during his two years of VISTA service. Sean has concentrated efforts on the writing program for 2012-13, and established infrastructure in which teachers now administer writing and grammar assessments and teachers and volunteers implement several literacy programs including a Pen Pals program and “Cool Kids News” (a filmed news show written and produced by students), as well as a unit on writing and research for each grade. The writing program served 34 students in 2012-13. Surveys that Sean developed revealed that 80% of parents report that they read with their kids for at least 15 minutes at home compared to just 65% who responded at the beginning of the school year, and 87% of kids report they read at home compared to 72% at the beginning of the year. Sean’s supervisor, Sarah Fischer, writes, “The big increase in the percentage of parents reading at home with their children—we think—is directly correlated to Sean increasing awareness to our parents the importance of reading at home. Sean has taken advantage of our new Family Night events and "Fun Fridays" to give away more than 900 books to families. Sean has managed several reading incentive projects that have increased not only the amount of books students read in class, but how often they read at home.”



Tim Dumas, serving at Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) created a Books and Bikes program for cross age mentoring, a Park Pathways school year cross age mentoring program and a Pop-Up Library program. The Pop-Up Library helps MPRB bring a mobile library to kids at non-traditional locations like parks and community events. Tim worked with STEP UP program teens during July to implement the first ever Pop-Up Library event. The launch was on July 25th at Bryant Square Park, and was very well received. Thirty-eight children, together with teen volunteers and staff, engaged in literacy activities in and around the Pop-Up Library, and received a free book to take home.


Becca Jabour, serving at Camp Fire USA Minnesota Council, worked to establish a solid reading and literacy-based program used at Camp Fire’s 13 youth club programs for K-5th grade students. Becca worked on building the infrastructure of after-school and summer literacy programming, developing curriculum, securing materials, and engaging volunteers. In Program Year 2012-13, 355 children participated in the literacy programming at the youth clubs. Prior to the VISTA project, Camp Fire’s out-of-school-time club programs did not have a structured literacy or volunteer program.


VISTA member Amanda Knopf, serving at Hallie Q Brown Community Center, found a creative way to support students’ academic achievement in the after school program when she formed a partnership with Reading Education Assistance Dogs Minnesota (R.E.A.D. MN). Every week, a R.E.A.D. MN volunteer and her service dog come to the Hallie Q Brown after-school program. Each child gets individual time to read to the dog and participate in literacy activities with the volunteer.



Bernadette Muloski, serving at Austin Adult Learning, served on a project to fill gaps in services supporting the transition to post-secondary for students in Austin, MN. Riverland Community College offers a popular program for young people called “Be Your Best College Prep Academy.” Due to limitations in class size and funding, this program is not able to accommodate all interested students and has strict eligibility requirements. Bernadette was instrumental in making it possible for Austin Adult Learning to collaborate with Riverland Community College and Austin High School to create two brand new programs which can serve students who don’t qualify for the Be Your Best program or have additional needs. In SPARK College Prep Academy, students participate in math and English classes, access tutoring, use an online tool for individualized help to prepare for Accuplacer college placement tests, and participate in workshops on various college access topics. It was implemented for the first time in summer 2013, and 22 students enrolled. In BOOST Camp, students can participate in an open learning lab with college faculty and tutors to identify problem areas, strengthen skills and prepare for college placement tests. They are also given a college tour and learn what they would need to do to enroll. In the last two weeks of the program Adult Learning and Riverland staff help the students who are ready to transition fill out applications, take the Accuplacer, and choose classes. BOOST Camp was also offered for the first time over the summer, and 18 students participated. Not only will SPARK and BOOST ease the entry to post-secondary for disadvantaged students and increase their confidence, these free services help low-income students save money on tuition by allowing them avoid having to take remedial classes at college that may not count for credit. Bernadette fostered community partnerships and collaborations; came up with program names; created a logo and marketing materials; developed guidelines; and analyzed both successes and areas where there is room for improvement when implementing the program again in the future.


VISTA member Kim Horner served at Northfield High School Tackling Obstacles Raising College Hopes (TORCH). One aspect of Kim’s project was developing a Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program, offering at-risk students college credit options while in high school. In 2012-13, 30 students participated in the PSEO program. One significant benefit of the PSEO programming is that students from low-income families save money on college tuition and are not derailed from pursuing their education because of the need to pay for remedial classes. Entering post-secondary education having already attained college credits can also provide at-risk students with a higher level of confidence and extra motivation to complete a degree. Kim helped to develop and fine-tune the infrastructure of testing, support, feedback and quality assurance. She worked to define roles and responsibilities for collaborating colleges, college students serving as tutors/mentors, coordinators and the TORCH students. She created mentor job descriptions, a handbook, and contracts. Kim also developed systems to track data and analyze the effectiveness of the program. Several school districts and colleges have visited in order to learn more about how to replicate the program. TORCH is now poised to serve over 60 students with PSEO in the 2013-14 school year, a 50% increase in the number of students served. Beth Berry, VISTA supervisor, states, “To make a dramatic increase of this nature requires that the system be functioning seamlessly. We are confident that we will be able to make this leap. We are also noticing the gaps of service and are developing measures to address those gaps. Kim’s ability to process and organize evaluation data has been invaluable in allowing us to move to this next level.”



Emily Beltmann-Swenson, serving at Open Door Learning Center – Lake Street, helped to increase participation and retention of adult basic education students. Emily worked to establish efforts to build community, and to systematize these efforts in a way that will be easy for staff and volunteers to maintain. These efforts include systems to support more frequent and better-organized special events, guidelines to maintain an effective social media presence, as well as recognition of students for good attendance and other accomplishments. Emily also modified the intake procedures that volunteers use so that each student is maximally enrolled in all programming for which they are eligible. The average number of hours per participant rose to 118.77 hours in 2012-13, an impressive 20% increase from the 98.67 hours per participant average in 2010-11 (the year before the VISTA project began). The fact that students are participating for many more hours on average is significant because more instructional time means that it is more likely students will advance in their literacy skills. In 2012-13, 53.3% of students made level gains, a substantial 16% increase over the 2010-11 average of 45.6%. Persistence and academic progress are, of course, important for individual learners as they pursue their life goals. It is also important for the sustainability and growth of the Open Door Learning Center. Both state and federal sources of funding directly correlate to cumulative student hours: the greater the hours, the greater the funding. Furthermore, to maintain good standing (and therefore funding) the learning center’s performance is measured by its ability to satisfy National Reporting Systems goals, including meeting required percentages of level gains in testing results.


VISTA member Lisa Vogl, serving at CommonBond Communities, worked on establishing opportunities for adult residents in CommondBond’s low-income housing to access English as a Second Language classes. After working with staff to assess the needs of the residents, Lisa launched a multi-pronged approach. She developed a collaboration with Hmong American Partnership (HAP) to provide high-quality ESL instruction on-site at CommonBond’s Skyline Tower, taught by licensed teachers. HAP started offering level 1 and 2 classes, which generated excitement with CommonBond residents who had previously faced barriers related to transportation when accessing ESL classes. In April, HAP began offering level 3 and 4 as well. In addition to the classes offered on-site by HAP, Lisa has helped to recruit, train and mobilize 64 volunteers to provide further classroom instruction, one-on-one tutoring, and to facilitate a new Conversation Group. Lisa worked on developing curriculum that volunteers can use when teaching and tutoring students. Thanks to Lisa’s efforts, programming offered for adult English learners at CommonBond’s Skyline Tower rose from about 4 hours a week to 26 hours a week! Aspects of programming at Skyline Tower are now being replicated at other CommonBond sites. CommonBond recently chose to nominate the Adult ELL Programs for a Multi-housing Achievement in Design, Adverstising and Community Support (MADACS) award. Conversations at multiple levels and within multiple departments within CommonBond are happening regarding adult and elder ELL programs. The programs have been highlighted in Advantage Services Quarterly Board Reports, CommonBond newsletters, and during countless tours with funders and community partners. These conversations include raising awareness of the need and impact, as well as exploring funding sources to support the program ongoing.



Through community outreach and marketing efforts on the part of VISTA member Kara Bennett, Minneapolis Public Schools’ volunteer matching program “VolunteerMPS” was highlighted in a Twin Cities Daily Planet article in December 2012. Kara served with VolunteerMPS through the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), helping to expand the capacity of programming and increase the awareness and community engagement related to MPS volunteering opportunities. The article, entitled “New Year’s Resolution: Close the Achievement Gap, One Student at a Time,” featured volunteer tutoring opportunities within the MPS system and called attention to the important work being done by VolunteerMPS and community volunteers. View the full article online here: http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2012/12/23/new-years-resolution-close-achievement-gap-one-student-time


VISTA member Kara Bennett also organized and facilitated Early Literacy training sessions for parents at MPS elementary schools. In January, Kara presented the Early Literacy training to a group of 16 Latino parents at Andersen Elementary School, with the help of the MPS family liaison who interpreted the presentation. The overwhelmingly positive reaction to this session led to three other sessions being scheduled at Andersen Elementary, along with additional conversations with parents about how to further expand the training. Kara as a result re-wrote the training materials so that they are culturally specific and translated into Spanish. Many of the parents already work as classroom volunteers, so providing them with the training strengthens the Early Literacy program as well. Seeing such high interest in the Andersen Elementary sessions, Kara worked with a liaison at Seward Elementary to create a similar version of the training session in Somali. These modified and expanded trainings help to reach out to and empower MPS parents who speak those languages. As a result, parents have a better idea of what their children are doing in school and how they can become more engaged in it—furthering the goal of increased parent and family engagement and moving towards closing the achievement gap.


VISTA member Susannah Harris—Early Literacy Special Projects Coordinator with Minneapolis Public Schools—helped to coordinate an effort to get MPS students in grades K-3 to participate in a nationwide creative writing contest. The “Kids GO!” writing contest was sponsored by the Department of Education and facilitated by Public Broadcasting System/Twin Cities Public Television (PBS/TPT). As a whole, MPS students had never participated in this contest before, but the VISTA saw this contest as an opportunity to support children’s literacy learning, foster a love of creative reading and writing, increase community engagement, and increase academic performance. First, the VISTA collaborated with the staff at PBS/TPT to clarify the requirements of the contest and to “okay” the project of collecting submissions from classrooms all over the MPS district. The VISTA also made sure that schools with English Language Learners would not be excluded from the contest and could participate even if the stories were originally written in a language other than English. The VISTA then contacted each MPS principal and teacher in grades K-3 to highlight the contest, encourage participation, and promote the opportunity for this district-wide project. Through the collaborative efforts of the VISTA, PBS/TPT, and MPS staff and students, Minneapolis Public Schools had the highest number of entries of all other participating districts in Minnesota, with a total of 166 student submissions. Because of MPS’ high entry rate, MPS Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson was invited to attend the PBS/TPT Awards and Recognition ceremony honoring the achievements of the students in the writing contest. Only three superintendents were invited to this ceremony and it was an honor to have Superintendent Johnson included in the event, especially considering the fact that it was the first time MPS participated in the contest. Additionally, one MPS first grade student won first place and will be continuing on to the next judging round (state), and two third grade students received honorable mentions. Now that a partnership has been nurtured between MPS and PBS/TPT, Minneapolis Public Schools plans to participate in this contest annually.



The Minnesota Literacy Council’s Summer Reads VISTA program placed, trained and supported 80 Summer Associate VISTAs across Minnesota in 2013 to combat the “summer slide” for low-income children in grades K-3. Twenty-six VISTAs served in twelve communities throughout greater Minnesota: Aitkin, Alexandria, Austin, Barnum, Duluth, Ely, Fairmont, Faribault, Little Falls/Pierz, Kerkhoven/Murdock, Northfield, and Rochester. Within the metro Twin Cities, 59 VISTAs served at sites throughout Minneapolis and Saint Paul as well as suburban cities including Shoreview, Mounds View, Maplewood, Oakdale, Brooklyn Center, and Columbia Heights.

Summer Reads VISTA members provided one-on-one and small group tutoring in literacy as well as literacy enrichment programming for children in a variety of settings, including summer schools, public libraries, and community non-profits like Boys & Girls Club and YMCA. VISTA members were trained in basic literacy tutoring strategies, behavior management and asset-based child development, and provided tools and resources for working with diverse populations like English Language Learners.  As a result of the literacy services provided by Summer Reads VISTAs, participating children increased their words-per-minute scores by an average of nearly 8 words per minute and increased their sight word recognition by over 3 sight words. Four out of five children were able to maintain or increase their words-per-minute scores, 9 out of 10 maintained or increased their sight word recognition, and 9 out of 10 maintained or improved their engagement with reading as evidenced by interest and attitudes toward reading.

Blog Category: