AmeriCorps volunteers lend a hand at Rock Island Elementary

AmeriCorps volunteer Dana Winter leads a geography-themed reading group at Rock Island Elementary. Shown are fourth-graders Carmen Garcia, Tatum Fisher and Alexi Granados. (Karen Larsen photo)

AmeriCorps volunteer Dana Winter leads a geography-themed reading group at Rock Island Elementary. Shown are fourth-graders Carmen Garcia, Tatum Fisher and Alexi Granados. (Karen Larsen photo)

 

By Karen Larsen

This year Rock Island Elementary students and teachers have a little extra reading help. Two AmeriCorps volunteers, Dana Winter and Cheryl Sprague, are serving full-time at the school.

Winter helps in the kindergarten, third and fourth grade classrooms and Sprague helps in the kindergarten, first and second grade. Both help with afterschool tutoring and with organizing special events, like a literacy night that was held in February. Sprague and Winter will also help with the summer school program.

In fourth grade teacher Carrie Brett’s classroom May 1, groups of students were rotating through reading stations focused on a variety of geography content. Winter was able to lead a station focused on reading about the tropical rain forest and finding locations on a globe in the center of the table.

The children obviously enjoyed spending time with their AmeriCorps volunteer. Carmen Garcia said, “She’s fun. She tells some jokes and they’re funny sometimes.”

Tatum Fisher said, “She’s smart.”

Brett said that having Winter in the classroom has been helpful because she provides extra one-on-one or small group attention on a daily basis. Brett said that she thinks that the presence of the AmeriCorps volunteers in the school has contributed to gains in reading scores this year.

During the same class period, Cheryl Sprague was sitting at a table in the hallway outside a first grade classroom. Students came out one-by-one to read a story to Sprague.

Both Sprague and Winter are paying off college loans and were glad for the loan help that AmeriCorps provides volunteers. They also feel rewarded by the experience of helping the children improve their reading.

Sprague was an AmeriCorps volunteer at Grant Elementary from 2008-2010. When Rock Island Elementary principal Sue Kane approached her last summer about serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Rock Island, she thought about it for a day and then told herself, “You know, I’m going to do it. I love working with the kids.”

Before starting this stint as an AmeriCorps volunteer, Sprague was a frequent substitute teacher in a number of area schools. She said she enjoys the chance of being at one school throughout the year and getting to see the students’ progress. “It’s really encouraging to think that you have had a part in that,” Sprague said.

Winter is a recent graduate of the Theater Arts program at Central Washington University. She enjoys working with the children and found the planning of the literacy night especially challenging. She said the theme for the evening was “Reading Takes You Places.” The volunteers planned activities around the room based on that theme. When students completed each activity, they got a sticker in their passport and when they earned six stickers they got to go downstairs for a prize and dessert. Students attended with their families and the aim was not only to encourage children to read, but also to encourage parents in how they can help their children.

Kane said that funding for the AmeriCorps program in the schools was cut quite a bit this year. Rock Island, which has AmeriCorps volunteers for the first year, was able to have them because the school agreed to do much of the training and supervising, which had previously been done through a local AmeriCorps office. Kane said that it has been nice to have the volunteers because they are in the school everyday and can provide consistent help for the children. Rock Island Elementary has the AmeriCorps grant for two years with the condition that there are two volunteers to serve at the school.

 

AmeriCorps volunteer Cheryl Sprague works with first-grader Daniela Garcia at Rock Island Elementary. (Karen Larsen photo)

AmeriCorps volunteer Cheryl Sprague works with first-grader Daniela Garcia at Rock Island Elementary. (Karen Larsen photo)