“ServeMinnesota might be the nonprofit world’s best-kept secret,” says Kate Kelly, Minnesota regional president for PNC Bank. According to Kelly, who has served on the ServeMinnesota board since 2004 (she’s currently board chair), it shouldn’t stay a secret. It’s certainly not a secret to educators nationwide.
ServeMinnesota is the state’s hub for AmeriCorps, the national service program that places volunteers in organizations that address issues in education, the environment, addiction recovery, and affordable housing. Most of the more than 2,000 AmeriCorps members in Minnesota serve their communities full time in schools or community organizations. By leveraging private, federal, and state funds, AmeriCorps programs run in 77 of Minnesota’s 87 counties, where people age 18 to 80 dedicate a year to serve their communities.
But ServeMinnesota’s influence extends far beyond its home state. It has received national recognition for its literacy and math programs. Its Reading Corps and Math Corps programs have been shown to accelerate academic achievement, especially with students who are facing opportunity and achievement gaps. Both programs are being replicated in 14 other states and Washington, D.C.
Here’s why: Outside studies have shown that Reading Corps improves early reading skills for struggling students, the equivalent of a half-year to almost a full year of extra school. More than 40,000 students served by the Reading Corps program have demonstrated reading proficiency on Minnesota’s state test in the past 10 years. And Math Corps students are twice as likely to achieve math fact fluency and meet end-of-year benchmarks.
ServeMinnesota continues to innovate. When research uncovered a strong connection between skills measured in preschool and math achievement at age 15, the organization saw an opportunity to build on the current Reading Corps model to support broader kindergarten readiness skills. Partnering with schools, child care centers, and math education experts, ServeMinnesota launched an early numeracy pilot in the 2018–19 school year to complement preschool math instruction. With support from the PNC Foundation, ServeMinnesota developed materials and implementation procedures to improve children’s early math skills before starting kindergarten. The early numeracy skills program is now a part of every Reading Corps pre-kindergarten classroom nationally.
“ServeMinnesota is entrusted with stewarding the vision that AmeriCorps service can be a tool for states and communities to solve unsolved problems,” ServeMinnesota CEO Audrey Suker says. “Our work demonstrates how this happens by deploying AmeriCorps members to build a bridge between research and practice. We’re now expanding this strategy beyond education to include addressing climate change, recovery from substance use disorders, housing instability, and the needs of older adults.”