KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — In the middle of the school day, in the middle of the week, 8-year-old Aakera came bursting through familiar doors to a classroom at Challenger Elementary in Kentwood.

She is bursting with confidence and a smile that is magnified through her glasses. She’s welcomed on the other end of the room by another smiling face, Mary Dunn.

Dunn has been Aakera’s Michigan Education Corps teacher for the last two years. While Dunn has helped with reading, the evidence of their progress is in Aakera’s confidence.

“The first year she was awesome. This second year, she’s grown with her confidence level. She’s so excited about reading, gives her best effort every single time. Her expression when she’s reading, wow, it’s just off the chart. And I just see that confidence. Look at this, the smile, the glow,” Dunn said sitting next to Aakera.

Dunn has been working at Challenger for the last four years. She’s what they call an interventionist, a tutor hired through AmeriCorp for Hope Network’s MEC program. She started with the program as a way to give back for the help she received when she was in school.

“I love the idea of working with kids, mentoring kids. I loved reading when I was younger and saw a need and I wanted to be part of the solution,” Dunn said. “I thought MEC would be the perfect fit for me. I want to give back to the community. This community has given so much to me and I want to give back to them and this is a wonderful, perfect way for me to do that.”

MEC is an evidence-based program that operates throughout the state of Michigan in 32 districts. Instructors like Dunn go into schools and help kids who have fallen behind in reading or math catch back up to their appropriate age level. Last school year alone MEC AmeriCorps interventionists helped 2,458 students with 1.7 million minutes of tailored help. The executive director of the program, Holly Windram, said MEC is about bringing extra resources to the table for schools.

“Our goal is closing achievement gaps. … We are what we call a ‘high dosage intervention program,’ meaning that it’s very frequent,” Windram said. “That means that student is building a relationship with that interventionist every time they meet and so it all comes together to build a very successful program for kids.”

Since the pandemic, Windram said that gaps already present for kids struggling with math or reading widened. But the lack of in-person learning created a new gap for all students.

“Our schools had an even bigger lift because now it was all the kids that needed that extra support to get them back on track. And yet we still had our learners who still had additional vulnerabilities that still needed that extra support,” Windram said. “So MEC was needed more than ever.”

That increased need has now driven up the need for more interventionists as they work to reach more students falling into those vulnerability gaps.

“Anyone can be an interventionist. That’s the beauty of AmeriCorps and the beauty of Michigan Education Corps, is you just have to be 18 years or older, have a passion for serving kids, and we will give you all of the tools and coaching that you need to be a successful interventionist with our program,” Windram said. “To these kids, these are mentors, friends. Caring, consistent adults that are cheering them on. That are building up their self-confidence and … are saying, ‘I believe in you,’ every single day.”

Interventionists are given a living stipend and some benefits along with access to an educational award that can be used to pay off student debt, pay for future education, or be donated to a child, grandchild or foster child.

“Many of our interventionist now come to us and we have multiple pathways in which they can pursue teacher credentials or a CDA, a child development associates credential,” Windram said. “Many of our schools do hire our interventionist after they’ve served because they realize that these are such skilled individuals and they’ve already been able to establish that great relationship within the school community.”

Schools are asked to contribute a participation fee up front when beginning the MEC program. That’s used to recruit and train new interventionists. Then all additional costs are picked up through Hope Network’s different sources of funding.

One of those funding sources is the Sounds Like Hope benefit concert that will take place on Saturday at GLC Live at 20 Monroe. The Head and the Heart will perform with Brother Elsey and ticket proceeds will help to grow programs like MEC in schools across the state.

“There might be people out there who hear about the chance to become an interventionist and think, ‘Oh, I like kids and I really love reading,’ or ‘I love kids and I really love math.’ They might want to serve with Michigan Education Corps at one of our schools,” Windram said about those at the Sounds like Hope concert. “Our schools are looking. We have high demand from our schools for our programs and so we definitely need people who are willing to step up.”

Windram will be there alongside Dunn and Hope Network executives to show the importance of programs like MEC. In their reading intervention program, 60% of students are already testing above their target growth metric. Those are the results on paper the program strives to achieve. But it’s the results like the one found in Aakera that make the program a fulfilling experience for interventionists like Dunn.

“When I first started, my first year I thought it was just going to be, OK, I’m here to help them improve their reading scores. But I didn’t realize, I forgot when I was a child what happened with me I guess, that my confidence just increased. I see them walking down the halls with such boldness and excitement about learning,” Dunn said. “With Aakera, she is doing her work so fast. I mean, I don’t know if it’s math or whatever other subjects they’re doing, she can finish the work in just a minimum amount of time as compared to before.”

To learn more about the MEC program, go to To find out how to support the program through the Sounds Like Hope benefit concert, go to