ATWATER — In the organized chaos of an elementary school classroom, bold shapes and bright colors adorn the walls, adding elements of learning to the very scenery of the room. On one wall hangs a diagram to teach about the different seasons and the weather, felt to match the warm yet vibrant energy of the room.
Just under this wall hanging sits Isaac Boike, reading "Home on the Range" to a few preschoolers, complete with talking animals and homesteader characters. They sit, fidgeting as preschoolers often do, yet Boike manages to engage each child before their attention is captured elsewhere — by the soft tones of a movie being played in the background or the texture of the rug or even their own feet.
Isaac Boike is a 25-year-old Clara City native who spends the vast majority of his time with kids. He works as a reading tutor for Minnesota Reading Corps, an organization that strives to help children build a strong reading foundation so they can be successful in their future academic career.
According to the Minnesota Reading Corps website, "Reading is the foundation of all learning — but in Minnesota, one in three third-graders struggles to read. If a child isn't reading well by the end of third grade, it's almost impossible to catch up; 74 percent of children who read poorly in third grade continue to read poorly in high school. Why? From age 3 through third grade, children are learning to read. After third grade, they have to read well in order to learn."
Boike is just one of the thousands of reading tutors nationwide, but at ACGC he stands out among the elementary school teachers because unlike most of his colleagues, he's a man.
"Well, I think that it's a real rarity for a young man to work in the preschool environment. And Isaac expressed direct interest in doing that. We like to have a diversity of individuals who can work with kids, and so having a male role model in the classroom to teach these kids provides some different exposure than they usually might have," said Gary Young, a passionate member of Minnesota Reading Corps and Math Corps.
"Out of the whole staff, I think there's only three or four males who work in the school," Boike confirmed.
"Before I started working here, I was managing a group home. That position was all night shifts, so I was looking for a few day shifts. And then one of my friends, she used to be a reading tutor, recommended that I should apply for the Minnesota Reading Corps position at ACGC and I got the job," said Boike.
Since he took the literacy advocate position at ACGC, Boike feels he might have found his passion.
"Working with the kids and watching their progress, on how much they've learned from day one to the last day of school, that's my favorite part. And I really enjoy working with the kids, so one extra thing I've gotten out of this is the thought that maybe I should go into childhood education and get my degree to be a real teacher," said Boike.
Along with his work in the ACGC school district, Boike also dedicates some of his time to driving over to Litchfield and helping out there.
"Grandma Deb, she's not my grandma but everyone calls her Grandma Deb, works over in Litchfield and she asked me to come and help her out as a male role model in her preschool classroom," said Boike.
And although he's paid for his work at ACGC, his hours in Grandma Deb's Litchfield classroom are entirely voluntary.
"We just think he's a champion among tutors, and the kids love him as well as do the administrators," said Young. "He's so engaged and warm hearted and we are so glad to have him as a part of our literacy program."
Tutors in the Minnesota Reading Corps can serve four years, so Boike will be returning to ACGC Elementary School in the fall to continue promoting preschool literacy.
"Who knows, maybe after a few years with Reading Corps, I'll go to school for elementary education. The program has really helped me, by giving me a job and showing me what I like to do, so in a few years you might see me working full-time in a classroom that's mine," said Boike.