Little Mountain reading tutor attends national conference

Johann Shockency is a Minnesota Reading Corps tutor who’s finishing up the current school year at Little Mountain Elementary in Monticello.

Shockency’s inspirational approach to helping students become better readers has landed him a unique honor in the form of a speaking invitation to a national conference.

Shockency is participating in the 2014 Summit on National Service at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, an invitation-only event featuring dozens of leaders from national public, private, and civic institutions.

What’s even more unique about Shockency’s educational adventure is the fact that’s he’s legally blind. He has Retinitis Pigmentosa, an inherited, degenerative disease that often causes severe vision impairment or blindness and takes away a person’s peripheral vision.

“I only found out about two or three weeks ago about being invited to this conference,” he said. “They asked if I could travel east and go speak or represent the Minnesota Reading Corps program. I’m one of 10 people who has been asked to share their story out of a possible 850,000 people.”

Shockency is scheduled to speak 11:30 a.m. Thursday, shortly after Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“I’m legally blind,” Shockency said. “I can’t drive. My central vision is OK, I can read a computer screen and I can read a book.” Reading books is important to  Shockency, a 2004 Anoka High School graduate who is working to complete an two-year degree online at Bemidji State before he moves out west to Denver.

This August, Shockency will be leaving the Monticello School District. He’s planning to start training and wants to be Paralympian and participate in judo.

“I saw a statistic, if a student hasn’t reached certain reading standards by third grade, they stand a one in four chance of not graduating high school,” he said. “That bugged me. I wanted to try and do something about it, and being a reading tutor seems to been a very good fit for that. It’s been an amazing time.”

Shockency works with Little Mountain students in 20-minute blocks. “We work with their reading fluency,” he said. “The students that we target are the ones who are just below average that otherwise would not be serviced by anyone else in the school. Those are the kids that the Minnesota Reading Corps really targets.”

Minnesota Reading Corps is an AmeriCorps program. AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs that engage more than 80,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet critical national and local needs.

Serving through thousands of nonprofits, schools, and public agencies across the country, AmeriCorps members focus on disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families.

Minnesota Reading Corps has grown each year to become the largest state AmeriCorps program in the U.S. The program has plans to place more than 1,000 tutors in more than 700 elementary and preschool settings during the 2014-2015 school year, said Anna Peters, recruitment and outreach manager.

ServeMinnesota is the state’s designated recipient of funding for the AmeriCorps program, often referred to as “the domestic Peace Corps”. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the “The Nation’s Report Card,” showed in 2011 that only 34 percent of fourth graders read at a “proficient” level.

Lisa Winkler, ServeMinnesota’s vice president of external relations, had high praise for Shockency and his tutoring efforts at Little Mountain.

“AmeriCorps programs from across the country were asked to submit nominees to this process, for a national conference on service, they really wanted to highlight various members from AmeriCorps programs,” Winkler said. “They called us early in May and asked for somebody from Minnesota Reading Corps, because it’s the largest

AmeriCorps state program in the country. We nominated Johann, and he was selected as one of only six AmeriCorps speakers who will be part of this national conference. He’s made such a difference in the lives of students who attend Little Mountain Elementary. He really is beloved there.”

Shockency said he’s absolutely loved every minute of working in the Monticello School District. He also coached wrestling at Monticello High School this year.

“The facility and the staff here at Little Mountain are wonderful. I can’t say enough about how nice everyone is that I’ve met, and how hard they worked to educate the children in this community. It’s just a great, great, place.”

Shockency’s speaking engagement at this week’s 2014 Summit on National Service at Gettysburg is being organized by the Aspen Institute, is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to foster leadership and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues.

The event will be live streamed from June 4 to June 6 on the Aspen Institute website at www.aspeninstitute.org/events/live and on The Huffington Post Aspen Institute channel at www.huffingtonpost.com/news/huffpost-aspen-institute/.

“I’m looking forward to sharing my success stories and to explaining why I chose to do national service,” Shockency said. “Being legally blind, people might think you can’t do something. You might not be able to do it as fast as someone else, but you can do it if you put your heart into it. It just takes hard work.”

Contact Tim Hennagir at tim.hennagir@ecm-inc.com

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