A few Story County Schools still seeking AmeriCorps reading tutors

Marlys Barker, Editor
Lisa Hudson, an AmeriCorps reading tutor at Ballard East, works with a student. Hudson said she loves working with children and seeing their growth.

Story County United Way is recruiting for AmeriCorps/VISTA positions for a number of elementary schools in the county, to be part of the Iowa Reading Corps program that focuses on literacy for students in kindergarten through third grade. United Way President and CEO Jean Kresse said members are sought to serve in the following schools: Sawyer and Kate Mitchell, both in Ames; Collins-Maxwell, Colo-Nesco, Gilbert Elementary and Gilbert Intermediate, and Roland-Story.

Participating schools that already have Ameri-Corps/Vista members serving them this school year are: Fellows and Edwards, in Ames; Ballard East and Ballard West, and Central Elementary in Nevada.

This year, 12 of the 13 elementary schools in the county are wanting members, which goes to show that educators understand that the Iowa Reading Corps statewide initiative does help with the goal to have all Iowa students on track to read at grade level by the end of third grade.

“The Iowa Reading Corps was a pilot program that began in the fall of 2013,” Kresse said. “United Ways of Iowa, the statewide association, had been working with United Way organizations across the state, Minnesota Reading Corps and the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Services to bring the program to Iowa.” United Way of Story County (UWSC) partnered with United Ways of Iowa that first year and provided the match needed to bring three AmeriCorps members to Story County. “There were 10 members statewide that first year,” Kresse said, noting that the initial participating elementary schools in Story County included Sawyer, Nevada Central Elementary and Ballard East.

Iowa Reading Corps places AmeriCorps members, who are trained as elementary literacy tutors, at schools to implement prescribed literacy interventions for students who are just below proficiency in reading. Each day, members meet individually with students to conduct 20-minute tutoring sessions that focus upon building students’ skills in phonics, phonemic awareness and fluency. “Based upon current educational research and best practices, the tutoring sessions follow a Response to Intervention (RtI) model. During the summer months, Iowa Reading Corps members partner with their local United Way to provide literacy programming for summer feeding programs, participate in summer tutoring programs and/or coordinate children’s summer reading programs at local libraries,” Kresse said.

“The greatest rewards for schools and students,” Kresse said, is that “this is supplementing the great work schools are already doing.”

Mike Manock, principal at Ballard East, praises the work that Lisa Hudson, the school’s AmeriCorps member, is doing with the school’s students and said it is a benefit to have had Hudson with them for three years now. “It’s wonderful to have her here … she spends multiple hours working with students,” Manock said. He adds that Hudson also works in collaboration with the third grade teaching team in making sure students are gaining success in reading.

“I love my job,” Hudson said. “I would do this forever. I have seen tremendous success with this program.”

Hudson said the thing she enjoys most is working with kids and seeing them grow. “I want to pass on my love of reading. It is amazing when students that I have worked with come in to brag about their reading scores when they have passed the grade benchmarks,” she said.

Manock also gives a shout out to United Way of Story County for its leadership in the Iowa Reading Corps program, and said it is great to have a strong relationship with the United Way. “We’re always excited to help kids have success,” Manock said.

Kresse wants to hear from people who would be interested in doing what Hudson is doing, so that all the schools in the county that want reading help for students can get it. “Training (for new members) will be established once we have a cohort of members,” she said.

So who would be a good elementary literacy tutor? Kresse’s job vacancy description lists the following as qualifications: Having a strong interest in education, and specifically reading skills; having experience working with children is a plus; having a strong capacity to be flexible and adaptable to varied circumstances; being energetic, results-oriented, student-focused and having strong planning and time-management skills; being open to accepting and incorporating feedback from coaches and/or program staff; having good computer skills, including the ability to navigate and use online database systems and e-mail; and of course, members need to speak, read, write and understand English fluently.

There are also some great benefits to being an AmeriCorps member. Members receive a bi-weekly living allowance (every two weeks) that is distributed equally throughout their term of service. Kresse said that prior to taxes, the living allowance is $12,530 for full-time members and $6,265 for half-time members.

Full-time members who successfully complete their term of service receive an education award of $5,775; half-time members earn an education award of $2,887.50. The education award can be used to pay back federal student loans, to cover future costs of tuition or for other educational purposes. The award has a seven-year expiration period and can be used at any accredited post-secondary school. An added bonus for those age 55 and older is that they may extend their education award — which is considered taxable income at the federal level in the year that it is used, but is considered tax exempt at the state level — to a child, grandchild or foster child within seven years. The award must be used within 10 years of the tutor receiving it.

Kresse said funding for the additional Reading Corps Volunteers is available now in Story County. “We just need the people,” she said.

If you would like to learn more about this program and the other requirements of becoming a tutor, the United Ways of Iowa website has a lot of good information, Kresse said. That website address is: http://www.uwiowa.org/IowaReadingCorps.

If you would like to apply for an AmeriCorps position, go to: http://www.uwiowa.org/apply-americorps.