Learning to read is tough enough. But learning to read, write and speak English as a second language while living with a disability, poses unique challenges. With hard work and the support of parents and teachers, Monica Maldonado overcame these specific challenges as a child. Today, she shares her personal experience and passion for reading and making a difference by helping elementary school students.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Maldonado was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) when she was three years old. At the age of 11, Maldonado’s family moved from Puerto Rico to Rochester for her father’s job. She enrolled in special education classes and quickly learned English as a second language. After graduating from high school in 1999, Maldonado went on to earn her kindergarten through eighth grade education licensure from Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
Maldonado is applying her education and first-hand experience helping students learn to read as a tutor in the Minnesota Reading Corps, a statewide initiative to help every Minnesota child become a successful reader. The program matches trained AmeriCorps members and community volunteers with children from age 3 to third grade who are at risk for not reading at grade level.
AmeriCorps members work directly with children to provide individualized literacy instruction to help children fill their gaps in reading. As a Reading Corps tutor, Maldonado works one-on-one with up to 16 students each week at Pinewood Elementary School in Rochester. Her lessons go far beyond reading.
“I’m very open about what CP is with the students, and I have given presentations to everyone in the school about CP to help them understand it,” said Maldonado. “It helps me connect with the kids I work with. I know what it’s like to struggle with something in school that they can’t do just right. And for the kids who are learning English as a second language, I connect with them because my first language is Spanish.”
“My favorite part about being a Minnesota Reading Corps tutor is that I get to work with great kids and watch them overcome challenges to succeed in reading,” Maldonado said. “I’ve seen incredible growth in the students I work with. For example, I worked with a third grader who didn’t have the confidence to read by herself, but working with her every day, encouraging her and building up her self-esteem has helped her to grow so much that we exited her from the program because she’s doing so well. She still comes by every day asking if she can read with me.”
Americorps and ServeMinnesota provide opportunities for Minnesotans with disabilities. Each year, approximately 20 percent of AmeriCorps members in Minnesota who participated in a survey disclosed having a disability. ServeMinnesota, the organization that administers AmeriCorps programs like Minnesota Reading Corps, is recognized as a national leader in including individuals with disabilities.
AmeriCorps, a national service program often referred to as the “Domestic Peace Corps,” provides accommodations to help members and volunteers with disabilities perform their service. The organization has worked closely with Maldonado to help overcome mobility challenges, locating her office close to the grades she tutors. A volunteer brings the students to Maldonado rather than having her walking around the school to find them.
In December, the Minnesota Reading Corps kicked off its recruitment efforts to place more than 1,100 members for the 2012 – 2013 school year. Applications are being accepted for positions across the state, and are available at www.MinnesotaReadingCorps.org
Minnesota Reading Corps members commit to 11 months of service. In addition to receiving valuable hands-on experience, members earn up to $5,550 to pay for college or to pay back federal student loans, a modest living allowance and for full-time members, health insurance. Members can also defer federal student loans while they serve. Members who are at least 55 years of age may be eligible to transfer their education award to a child, grandchild or foster child.
For more information on the Minnesota Reading Corps or to apply as a tutor for the 2012 – 2013 school year, visit www.MinnesotaReadingCorps.org, or call (651) 251-9075 or toll-free (866) 859-2825.