Kim Mansaray, acting CEO for the Corporation for National and Community Service, celebrated AmeriCorps Week by serving as “member for the day” on March 9th at two Virginia program sites. Kim’s first stop was at Huguenot High School in Richmond where she spent time with Virginia College Advising Corps members and students. She enjoyed the afternoon at J.E.B. Stuart Elementary in Petersburg to get to know members serving with The Literacy Lab.
Arriving at the gleaming new Huguenot High School, Kim was greeted by Literacy Lab Program Director Joy Pugh and AmeriCorps member Lyons Sanchezconcha. The school, located in a culturally diverse area in the City of Richmond, was the first new high school in the city since 1968. Lyons was eager to tell Kim about the role their members play at helping the kids at Huguenot achieve their dreams and goals by attending college.
“I had a student struggling with their SAT score. They were at a 960 when I began working with them,” said Lyons. “After assisting him, he was able to get a 1400 on his SATs!”
Many of the students have never even considered college as an option until the Virginia College Advising Corps members open their eyes to options in school choice, financial aid, and scholarships. Students at Huguenot get the help they need to apply to college at the school’s innovative “Future Center.” Adorned with college banners from all over the country, the space is a one-stop shop for students to find scholarships, get tips on filling out their FASFA applications, and narrow down their school and major choices.
Lyon explained that the school’s Hispanic population has dramatically increased over the past few years. He is able to share important information about applying to college to students in Spanish. “I definitely get their attention when I am able to talk to them about college in Spanish,” he says. Lyons is even presenting 40 Spanish-language “flash chats” as part of Dreamworks on Google Hangout to reach even more students.
He said the AmeriCorps members aren’t isolated in their silos at the school. Members attend other school functions and communicate with various departments to build relationships throughout the school. “They support me and help me out when I have a college night, etc.” he said.
Just a short 20 minute drive south, Kim spent some time getting to know the AmeriCorps program members, staff and students at J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School in Petersburg. The City of Petersburg represents a real and significant opportunity for members to make an impact for the kids attending school in this economically depressed region. Petersburg schools rank last in Virginia in reading achievement. During Kim’s visit, however, she found students’ reading levels growing at astounding rates thanks to an amazingly effective AmeriCorps program, The Literacy Lab. In Virginia The Literacy Lab has 36 tutors helping nearly 650 students at 18 schools.
AmeriCorps members Ellen Heberling and Joi Wooden were on hand to demonstrate their tutoring methods and explain how the program has impacted their lives. While Joi explained that this opportunity made perfect sense as invaluable job training for her desire to pursue a career in education, Ellen was looking for a job change and found her passion for helping students read and is now thinking of a career as a librarian.
As Kim spent time observing the tutoring process with two excited and eager students, she was able to see firsthand how The Literacy Lab members practice techniques targeting letter name/sound fluency, rhyming, and alliteration. “I can really see the kids growing and learning. It is very exciting,” said Ellen. She says part of the success of the program is that, because the members serve in a single classroom full time, they are able to build strong bonds with the students. Joi agreed stating that “The relationships we build with the students is so great. They see me as a mentor. Everyone here is warm and welcoming.”
Program Director Emma Byrne detailed how the members are supported and evaluated by internal staff members — a Master Coach and Internal Coach. Stuart Elementary’s Master Coach Kyle Warren regularly monitors and reviews each member working together as a team for the benefit of the students. “Our training is the roots,” said Ellen, “but the help from the coaches makes it easy to make a real impact.” The school’s Internal Coach Cierra Claughton conveyed that the program is truly making a huge impact. “Not only is it turning reluctant readers into enthusiastic readers — but the improved literacy skills bleed over into improvements in math, science, history, and behavioral growth as well,” she explained.