MARQUETTE - With the start of the new school year right around the corner, this year's 10 newest AmeriCorps members are beginning their training, learning how to help improve literacy skills before spreading out to schools across Marquette and Alger counties.
The program, run through the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency, is in its second year focusing on literacy.
Program coordinator Kelly Johnson-Sager said the data coming in from last year's efforts are showing the difference AmeriCorps members can make.
Former AmeriCorps member Kevin Harrington reads to kids in Gilbert Elementary School last school year. The Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services AmeriCorps program has a special focus on literacy, hoping to bump up kids just below their grade levels. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
A big component of the AmeriCorps program is focused on community service. Pictured here, at center, current AmeriCorps member Dianne Jarvi helps shovel dirt in early May to be used in the Graveraet School’s hoop house. Jarvi is participating in the AmeriCorps program again this year. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
During the 2012-2013 school year, AmeriCorps member Allison Uren helps Lakeview School then-first-graders Marek Hogan and Maddison Liquia work on their reading skills. Lakeview School, in Negaunee, is still in need of an AmeriCorps member for the current school year. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
New AmeriCorps members take part in their first day of training Monday, led by Chad Rowley, director of the MARESA AmeriCorps program, and program coordinator Kelly Johnson-Sager. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
"Every grade level that we worked with showed improvement in their literacy scores," Johnson-Sager said. "And that's the whole goal of the grant, is that will carry into ACT scores and college, so even though we're hitting them at K-5 mostly, that's the goal of the grant."
The program is federally funded by the Corporation for National Community Service through the Michigan Community Service Commission, which hands out grants to local agencies.
The Corporation for National Community Service engages more than 5 million individuals in community service across the country.
The corporation runs the AmeriCorps program nationally, with 80,000 Americans taking part annually.
Last year, the program was changed to offer local agencies a chance to focus on one of several key areas, including literacy.
The idea is to help students just below their grade levels with extra, one-on-one time with AmeriCorps members in an effort to bump them up to where they should be.
Johnson-Sager said the program is also a great way to gain some experience, though, at $12,100 per year as a stipend, it's not a program that will make its participants rich.
"People have a chance to serve their community, to give something back," Johnson-Sager said. "They're not doing it for money. It's a way for them to be an active participant in their community and provide a service that there's a need for."
Sara Lakosky, 28, will be the newest AmeriCorps member in Munising's Mather Elementary School.
She said after spending the last year and a half subbing as a teacher's aide, she decided to join AmeriCorps to gain some more experience.
"I knew that you get some training, and it's a great way to be in the school everyday," Lakosky said. "It's full time and you get some good experience."
Lakosky said she's looking forward to working with the kids on literacy skills.
"It's great to see the kids in the beginning of the year and how they learn so much over the year and get up to their class level," she said.
In addition to the stipend, AmeriCorps members receive $5,500 after completing 1,700 hours of service which can be used to pay student loans or be used toward post-secondary education.
The program is still in need of two members, one at Lakeview Elementary School in Negaunee and one at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.