A late bloomer finds his calling

Hannah Burlingame/Review • Parker Knudson and Az’Rhyanna Smith, who are both third-graders at Kaposia Education Center, are just two of the many students who have been helped by 67-year-old John Kidd, who has been working at the school since 2016 as part of Minnesota Reading Corps.

Kaposia Reading Corp tutor gives teaching a try


Generally, when one retires it’s time for rest and relaxation. For one man though, retirement meant giving another profession a try while helping the school where his late wife worked.

John Kidd, a 67-year-old from Newport, has been part of Minnsota Reading Corps and tutoring students at Kaposia Education Center in South St. Paul since just after he retired from a career in research and development in January 2016. He began working with the nonprofit that February.

“There was no week off,” Kidd jokes about getting his post-retirement work going. “It was the best way for me to go about things.”

Kidd says he didn’t know about Reading Corps when he first started looking for ways to volunteer at Kaposia. A few school staff members told him about the organization — he thought it would be good fit. 

Reading Crops, which is part of the national AmeriCorps program, aims to give students who are struggling to read the individual help that they sometimes can’t get from teachers alone. The program pays tutors a stipend for their efforts.

Kidd says his goal when becoming a tutor was to test whether or not he could have been a teacher.

“When I graduated from St. Olaf, there wasn’t much opportunity in teaching in those years,” he says. 

Kidd’s wife Kathy worked at Kaposia for 20 years as a paraprofessional before passing away a few years ago. He carries a photo of the two of them with him; he says it’s so they can “team-teach.” 

“I just kind of wanted to walk the turf that she walked on,” Kidd says, “so it was symbolic.”


The way it works

Kidd spends 20-minute sessions with students who need just a little extra help reading. Typically, a part-time worker like him has eight students, but Kidd went to 11. 

Kidd says a necessary skill is being able to leave one student and remember where he or she was in the lesson before moving onto the next kid.

“After three years, I better be good at it,” he jokes.

There are different interventions students work through, and they get tested once a week. Kidd says kindergartners or first-graders start with sound awareness. Students move through series of lessons, which progressively become more difficult. 

Each grade has a standard for how many words per minute the student should read.  

“If they haven’t reached proficiency yet, you know that you have to maybe change the type of interventions you’re doing,” Kidd says.  

Nhia Vang, a program manager with Reading Corps, says all tutors are trained before hitting the books, and that the program is aimed at not only reading, but reading to learn. 

“The role that John plays here, which is so important and essential to ensuring we are able to serve students, is we want to provide them with that additional support so we can get them there,” Vang says.

Kidd says he loves starting with first-grade students, because at the beginning of the year he works on blending sounds into words with them, building an early vocabulary.

He says it’s fun taking those students from where they begin, to where they end up.


A helping hand

Students graduate or exit out of the program when they reach their grade level for reading. 

“He’s never getting a lighter schedule,” says Wendy Beaton-Lanz, who is a speech language pathologist at the school.

Kidd says he sees students coming up through kindergarten who need help with their reading skills, and once they get through first grade, he says it’s amazing how much they will have grown. 

Parker Knudson and Az’Rhyanna Smith, both third-graders, work with Kidd on their reading. 

Knudson says he was nervous when it came to reading, but both say they’ve noticed their reading skills have improved. Knduson says his favorite part of spending time with Kidd is when he tackles reading a full page. As for Smith, it’s all about working towards good grades.

“I like to test in school and testing makes your grade good,” she says.

It’s not just students growing — Vang says the tutors she supports through a year grow and take a lot out of the experience as well.

“The one-on-one time they have with students is so important and makes a big difference,” Vang says. 

Indeed, Kidd says he thinks he gets more back than he thinks he gives the kids.

First-grade teacher Krisitn Troup says the help from people like Kidd with Reading Corp makes a big difference in her students’ learning, while Beaton-Lanz says there are a lot of students who are in the danger zone when it comes to reading.

“If you walk through our halls at any time, there are so many small groups or one-on-ones or volunteers or Reading Corps. Anytime we can get that help, it only helps out [the whole school] population,” she says.

Vang says the program is already looking for 1,400 tutors for the next academic school year. To learn more about Reading Corp visit www.minnesotareadingcorps.org.


– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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