Meet Michelle and Danice

June 2023

Two students from the Summer Reads program look into the camera as Danice Martinez reads to them.

High on the wall of teacher Michelle’s classroom, a banner reads “You Belong Here” in large, pastel print. Belonging is exactly what Michelle and her sister Danice felt when they participated in Literacy Minnesota’s Summer Reads program as children 15 years ago.

For Michelle and Danice, it all started in the comfort of their summer school classrooms in Northfield, Minnesota. For eight weeks over the summer, Literacy Minnesota’s AmeriCorps VISTA mentors brought literacy to life through activities like one-to-one tutoring, math and vocabulary practice and creative enrichment using arts and drama.

Michelle explained that the program shaped her. “I was grateful for those interactions as a child.” Recalling her time in Summer Reads, Danice describes her memory of her reading mentor as “someone you wanted to get to know, a superhero!”

For the Martinez sisters, their literacy journey comes full circle.

Fast forward to their young adult years. Once nurtured by the care and guidance of their Summer Reads mentors, Danice and Michelle came back to their hometown to tutor in the same program they participated in as youth. Danice explained that she wanted the kids in her community to see that they can grow up to be anything they want. “We just wanted to inspire them to keep going with school.”

But the tale doesn’t end here. Michelle and Danice both went on to pursue education degrees and eventually became teachers. Danice emphasized, “students like us didn’t really have that push forward for college.” It is for that reason that the Martinez sisters felt inspired to give back the same assistance that helped them become first-generation college students.

Today, Michelle teaches first grade and Danice fifth grade at the same school in Eagan, Minnesota. Michelle remembers passionately, “When I was in first grade, I dreamed of being a teacher.” She goes on to explain that her experiences as a tutor allowed her to really understand the kind of career she wanted. Danice added that on her hard days she asks herself, “why am I doing this job?” Confidently, she replies, “because what we do matters.”

Hear more from Michelle and Danice Martinez by watching this video interview.

Two images in a graphic. The images show Michelle and Danice Martinez reading to kids in the 2019 Summer Reads program.