SMSU to Play Key Role in Literacy Volunteers Initiative

Published Thursday, June 23, 2016

Southwest Minnesota State University will be a part of a Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota initiative to address the achievement gap in Marshall Public Schools.

Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota recently received a Bush Foundation grant of $145,000 for a 25-month project that will address that achievement gap through a number of strategies.

The grant will fund two half-time positions. One person will be housed at the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the other with the Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota.

Research indicates there is an achievement gap between white students at middle- or upper-income levels and other populations, including students of color, English language learners and students at lower income levels.

 “There has been a lot of press in Minnesota, specifically in the Twin Cities, about the achievement gap in schools, but not so much in outstate Minnesota. Our area has become increasingly diverse, and we haven’t had initiatives aimed at addressing that in our community,” said Dr. Rick Herder, Associate Professor of Communication Studies and the chair of the Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota Board.

“What we hope to do is help students and families develop skills to help them succeed in school,” he said.

“We are partnering with SMSU, specifically the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, because they do a lot of outreach and support through their office,” said Candace Thomas, Executive Director of Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota.

She said there are a number of other groups and organizations that will be a part of the initiative, “but the three main ones are Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota, SMSU and Marshall Public Schools.

 “We want families to have an important role in this,” she continued. “Parents don’t often get to be a part of the solution, and we hope to include the entire family.”

Dr. Will Thomas, Accounting Professor and treasurer of the Literacy Volunteers, said student mentors will work with individual students within the Marshall system. The inclusion of families will be paramount, too, he added. “One thing we haven’t done is gone straight to the families and begin with the strengths of each family, and what they need to help them be successful,” he said.

 “We’re proud to be involved with the important work of the Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota,” said Dr. Connie J. Gores, SMSU President. “As our students learned last year as part of their Migrant Voices project, our new residents of southwest Minnesota share one common challenge, to improve their English language skills. This grant will go a long way toward helping teach a language which for many of our new residents is most challenging. We’re very pleased that our students will be key contributors to this initiative and make a difference in the lives of others.”

The Bush Foundation awarded more than $5 million in Community Innovation grants to 32 organizations across Minnesota, North and South Dakota and 23 native nations. There were just under 400 grant applications received for this cycle.