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AMERICA READS - MS AMERICORPS PROGRAM CONTINUES STRONG MISSION OF SERVICE AFTER 20 YEARS

8/3/2018 - Jackson, Miss.

Serving students, schools, and communities across Mississippi since 1998, the America Reads - Mississippi (ARM) AmeriCorps program recently reached a milestone as it begins its 20th year as a national service program. Awarded through the Corporation for National and Community Service and Volunteer Mississippi, the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) serves as the legal applicant for the program that focuses on improving the literacy skills of K-3rd grade students through the full-time service of AmeriCorps members as reading tutors.

The purpose of the program is two-fold:

  • To engage Mississippians who desire to pursue higher education in dedicated service of providing literacy tutoring of struggling students, and
  • To utilize service as a pathway to college and career.

These efforts "support the State of Mississippi's vision of strategic investment in the state's human capital and to support the state's mission to promote growth and the public good through the advancement of the individual."

Since inception, ARM has managed the recruitment and selection of more than 4,800 individuals to serve in elementary schools and non-profit organizations as AmeriCorps members, many of whom are now certified teachers in Mississippi.

"ARM manages the program in conjunction with partnering universities including Jackson State University (JSU), Mississippi State University (MSU), and the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) to provide support for ARM AmeriCorps members serving across the state," said Ronjanett Taylor, ARM State Program Director. "In my view, the partnership structure, from the program to universities to schools to communities, serves as a key factor in the program's continued success and represents a collaborative P-20 dynamic of educational service."

Members engage in daily one-on-one and small group reading tutoring with K-3rd grade students whose reading levels range from the 10th - 45th percentile. Research indicates well-designed and carefully administered one-on-one reading instruction contributed to improved performance for many students who were struggling to read; students taught in small groups of 2-6 were able to make the same gains in reading performance as students taught in one-on-one sessions; and, certified teachers and reliably trained adult volunteers were equally able to help struggling readers in both one-on-one and small group settings.

For the 2018-2019 program year, ARM will engage 84 AmeriCorps members who will serve in approximately 26 service sites (elementary schools and community agencies).

In communities served by ARM, many facing great challenges, AmeriCorps members reflect determination and commitment to improving the conditions, using service as a solution. In addition to tutoring, Corps members promote the value of education and service through community service day projects. An average of 1,740 volunteers will be recruited to assist with these projects.

ARM members receive three days of intensive tutor training conducted by literacy coaches from the Mississippi Department of Education and the ARM Literacy Specialist. They are supported by a service site supervisor and a peer team leader. ARM facilitates other trainings and monitoring visits throughout the year.

AmeriCorps, established in 1993, engages more than 80,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet critical needs in communities. The scope of AmeriCorps is far-reaching - members help communities recover from natural disasters, build affordable housing for families, provide tutoring and educational support, promote environmental stewardship, assist veterans and military families obtain necessary resources, and more.

A year of AmeriCorps service has a lasting impact on Corps members. Former members Brooke Floyd, Shamberi Horton, and Alma Chambliss all served at Stewpot Community Services, which shaped their career decisions. Originally on a path to study law, Floyd decided to become a certified teacher after serving at Stewpot through the AmeriCorps program. She is now Director of Children's Programs at Stewpot.

Horton attended Stewpot as a child and received tutoring from an AmeriCorps member, later became a member herself, and is the former Director of Children's Programs at Stewpot.

Chambliss joined AmeriCorps as a high-school student and returned as a second-year member serving at Stewpot as a college student.

"AmeriCorps has impacted my understanding of the value of education and service through the extra training I received and will need as a future educator," said Chambliss.

The ARM members' experiences support personal growth in addition to career growth. AmeriCorps service is about more than volunteering. For the past 20 years, the ARM AmeriCorps program focuses on investing in the success of Mississippi's students, building connections with the communities served, developing critical life skills, and pushing themselves to do more for the places they call home.

In this the 20th year, ARM will launch a campaign to reconnect with the more than 4,800 Corps Alum, enhance program sustainability, and evaluate the impact of service on the educational and professional pursuits of Corps members.

ARM is currently still accepting service applications for the 2018 - 2019 service term for sites in proximity to the MSU and USM regions. For more information or for ARM Alum to reconnect, contact Ronjanett Taylor, ARM State Director, at rtaylor@mississippi.edu.

ARM members celebrate Read Across America Day with students.

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

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