Champlin, Minn. -- With music blaring and kids dancing, teacher Paul Brown leads his kindergarten class through their letters and vowel sounds.
This is not your parents' kindergarten alphabet drill.
"We know our kids need to be able to read well by the end of the third grade," said Principal Rolf Carlsen. "If they're not doing that by the end of kindergarten, hitting those benchmarks, the chances of them being behind throughout their entire elementary career is much greater."
This year the Anoka Hennepin district is enlisting the aid of some 200 volunteers to help kindergarteners hit those benchmarks with a program called "Kindergarten Skillbuilders."
It focuses on reading and math. Every volunteer receives the same, centralized training for all 24 elementary schools.
"We know that a volunteer who is trained can go to any of our schools and provide the same quality one-on-one work with individual kindergarten students and we know that our teachers can rely on that help as well," said Parent involvement coordinator Linda Rogers.
Volunteers aren't replacing teachers, but they are working individually with students to let them practice their skills.
"They work with the kids who need that additional practice and one-on-one with an adult. There's nothing like it," Carlsen said.
And there aren't many volunteer programs on this scale, either. Anoka Hennepin is a rare district that can boast a paid coordinator to manage such a program. It's just the tip of the iceberg for Anoka Hennepin.
"We had over 11,000 volunteers last year," said Rogers. She can document not just the people, but how they spent their time. That includes 85,000 hours spent in classrooms working directly with students.
"The school board gets and 8-to-1 return on investment in terms of the money that they put into the volunteer services program and the equivalent to the work hours that they get out of it," Rogers said.
As with any program, the proof is in individual results. The program will be closely tracked to see if there are quantifiable gains.
Volunteer Frances Eue will be eager to find out. She has a unique perspective on how much is at stake for these kindergartners.
"I'm amazed at the difference between what my children learned, who are now in their 45 to 50 year age group, how much they learned versus how much these kids are learning," said Eue.
(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved.)