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AmeriCorps Grinnell to expand staff for summer


Elle Duncombe-Mills

The Grinnell–Newburg Community School District has found new allies in AmeriCorps service members, who are working to improve the literacy and employment skills of local students.

The program is currently operating on a one-year grant attained by Grinnell College and has eight service members working in the district. These eight members will soon be joined by 30 more as the AmeriCorps Grinnell Partnership program expands in anticipation of its 11-week summer session, set to take place in 2016.

The AmeriCorps Grinnell Partnership program has two major initiatives: the first, called the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, is directed towards younger children with the goal that all students will read at their grade level by third grade. The second initiative, the Skills Gap Initiative, aims to improve the workplace readiness skills for high school students.

AmeriCorps service members work on fulfilling these initiatives in specific action areas, which include attendance, school readiness, healthy readers, skills gap, family and community engagement, volunteer infrastructure, afterschool enrichment, summer programming and summer learning.

“Because it is a capacity-building grant, we all have different pieces of the same puzzle,” said Jacob Washington ‘15, AmeriCorps service member and coordinator of the Family and Community Engagement action area.

Washington added that, while the eight current service members are each working on separate action areas, the bulk of the 30 new members would fall within the Summer Programming and Learning sections.

The importance of expanding these summer programs is particularly potent as a new Iowa law looms for the 2016-17 school year. The law will mandate a certain standard of literacy at the third grade level, forcing students who do not meet the requirements to either repeat the grade or else to take summer courses in literacy.

“The idea surrounding [these summer programs] is to create an environment where kids don’t have three months of nothing,” Washington said.

Indeed, the summer sessions are specifically targeted to combat one of the biggest challenges to primary school literacy: “summer learning loss.” Research reveals that a three-month summer break off from school, especially for younger elementary students, can significantly set back a child’s learning progress. The summer programs will aim to increase literacy skills through engaging and fun activities, and through partnerships between students.

For high school students, the summer programs will involve a highly engaged type of learning as well. According to Washington, the Grinnell community has embraced the Skills Gap Initiative program by creating internship opportunities for the students in a variety of different fields.

“It’s not necessarily learning sAmericorps Graphicchool stuff, but it’s learning about how to be in a work environment, that’s what they want,” Washington said. He added that these summer-specific opportunities will allow high school students to gain “soft and hard business skills” during a time that otherwise would have contained no formal learning.

AmeriCorps has not yet posted job descriptions for the 30 new service member spots, but reports that the positions will be focused on preventing summer learning loss by working closely with kids to improve and retain their literacy skills. The job descriptions will be posted in mid-to-late March, and applications for the positions will be due in April.

New AmeriCorps service members will be trained in May and stay until the end of the summer session in mid-August, working a total of 11 30-hour weeks. For more information and updates on job postings, individuals can contact the Grinnell College Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement at

Looking to the future, the AmeriCorps Grinnell Partnership is setting their goals high with proposals of increased service member numbers and program expansion. The Grinnell College Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement manages the current grant, and is applying for another with the Iowa Commission On Volunteer Service to sustain and expand the program into its next year.

This proposal includes the placement of 46 AmeriCorps service members throughout the Grinnell community, who would work specifically on the campaign for Grade Level Reading in after-school and summer programming.

The AmeriCorps Grinnell Partnership received an approval notice for their first grant in June of 2015, and expect to hear back about the second grant around the same time this year.


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