Kids leaping forward

OWATONNA

As students everywhere go back to school, so are 20 AmeriCorps LEAP members. They work one on one in preschool classrooms with children who are at risk of falling behind in the skills necessary for success in kindergarten.

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation has been a sponsor of the AmeriCorps LEAP (Learning Early Achieves Potential) program for the past 20 years.

Our work is based in part on the significance of brain development from birth to 5 years. Studies prove it is critically important that children are taught skills to manage behaviors so they can focus on learning in kindergarten.

AmeriCorps LEAP members also promote and model out loud, routine reading in the home with parents and caregivers. Through a partnership with ABDO Publishing, SMIF receives a donation of preschool books, and LEAP members are able to give children they serve a series of books to build home libraries. Reading at home allows children to bond with adults and increase word awareness, which is also necessary for kindergarten success.

There is no doubt that LEAP outcomes over the past four years are boosting skills and delivering classroom benefit for hundreds children across southern Minnesota. Minnesota Department of Education surveys have shown notable increases in kindergarten readiness, and our AmeriCorps LEAP efforts, in combination with other initiatives by schools and communities, are contributing to this progress.

As part of the 20th Anniversary Celebration of AmeriCorps, next month AmeriCorps members and alumni from across the country will join together for a celebration. Part of the day will focus on re-creating the first pledge ceremony from Sept. 12, 1994.

Minnesota’s anniversary event will take place at the Mall of America Rotunda on Sept. 12, and includes a program highlighting AmeriCorps work in Minnesota, the broadcast of the National Pledge, lunch and a service project. Please join us at the MOA on September 12 if you can.

If you are interested in serving as an AmeriCorps LEAP member or want to learn more about the program, I encourage you to contact Barbara Gunderson at barbarag@smifoundation.org. You can reach me at timp@smifoundation.org or (507) 455-3215.

Tim Penny is president/CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.