MARQUETTE - Over the past 12 years, Marquette Alger Regional Educational Service Agency has - through grant funding - provided AmeriCorps members to its local school districts, adding a little extra academic support for students in need.
This year will be different for the program, however, since AmeriCorps members will seek to improve only one key aspect of learning - literacy skills.
Chad Rowley, director of the MARESA AmeriCorps program "Get Ready, Get Reading," said the service was important in providing additional help for students struggling with an important skill.
AmeriCorps teacher Randa Osman teaches, from the left Avery Fladung, 8, Rylan Rogusett, 7, and Colton Bertucci, 7, in her second grade English classroom on Tuesday morning. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
AmeriCorps member Allison Uren helps Lakeview School first-graders Marek Hogan and Maddison Liquia work on their reading skills during a small group session Tuesday afternoon. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
The AmeriCorps members provide support to students from kindergarten through tenth grade, and this year are stationed in five local districts as well as at MARESA.
Rowley said many of the members - who range in age from 23 to 52 - are college graduates with degrees in education, which is beneficial for both the students they help, and the AmeriCorps members themselves as they add much needed support for kids who just barely miss the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills cutoff in their reading abilities. The DIBELS test is administered several times within schools to assess reading levels.
Allison Uren, an AmeriCorps member stationed at Lakeview School in Negaunee, graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in secondary education English and health.
Uren completed her student teaching at Negaunee Middle School and said she is excited to continue working within the Negaunee Public Schools District.
Because the focus for each AmeriCorps member this year is literacy - which is what originally drew Uren's interest in the program - Uren spends her days helping students improve their reading and writing abilities. The goal, Uren said, is to help students who are just below the benchmark surpass it.
"We've been working with them to get them up to reading level before this becomes a problem with their learning," Uren said. "It helps a group of students that aren't normally targeted under other services."
She spends her mornings in four classrooms at half-hour increments, providing direct services to students who need help with their literacy skills. In the afternoon, students from six different classrooms come to her and she helps them with additional one-on-one tutoring.
With a limited amount of space to work with, the school converted a small nook off a hallway to an all-out classroom for Uren and her students, who see her in groups of two or three.
"With the younger kids, they learn, they just grow so quickly," Uren said. "It's exciting to see that progress that they make. When you go home, you just feel great."
AmeriCorps member Randa Osman, stationed at Superior Hills Elementary School in Marquette, spends her day in much the same way.
She works with students in grades kindergarten through three, helping the students who need just a little extra attention to hit their reading level.
Also an NMU graduate, with a degree in marketing, Osman said she was drawn to the classroom after other friends involved in the AmeriCorps program told her how much they enjoyed it.
"I used to teach swimming lessons and I really, really enjoy working with kids," Osman said. "It's just fun working with them. It's amazing to watch them progress and grow and improve. When I saw this opportunity, I thought it would be really interesting getting back into something working with kids."
Both AmeriCorps members said the program is beneficial not only to the people involved, but the community as a whole, and that the community service aspect of their year-long commitment was as important as their time spent inside the schools.
"Getting the community together really helps kids, not just with their reading, but it helps enrich their lives," Uren said.
After putting in a total of 1,700 hours of service in one year, AmeriCorps members are granted a $5,500 education award to either put toward past student loans or further post-secondary education.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.