In rural Iowa, Grinnell College and the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation serve as the backbone organizations for the local grade-level reading campaign in Grinnell, a town of approximately 9,500 residents (including 1,700 college students), located in the middle of the state. The Grinnell grade-level reading campaign, operating under the Grinnell Education Partnership (GEP) has been recognized in the past as a Bright Spot for the innovative approach of using AmeriCorps to support the Grade Level Reading framework. GEP brings area organizations together to provide quality programming to students throughout the school year and summer.
Summer programming, just like everything else this year, looks different in Grinnell. Summer Learning is Cool for Kids, or SLICK, is run by the Grinnell-Newburg Community School District (GNCSD) and aims to help all children improve their grade-level reading skills with direct instruction and literacy-focused enrichment activities. In past years, SLICK has been a full-day program with its own set of AmeriCorps members serving to help GNCSD teachers provide programming to prevent summer slide. However, after the past year of hybrid schooling and added stress on both students and teachers, the program had to look different. SLICK moved to a half-day, morning-only program with a midsummer break. In this format, it could not provide the minimum number of hours to fulfill AmeriCorps members’ requirements and yet was in more need than ever to have plenty of support to provide high-quality literacy programming.
As the coordinator of summer AmeriCorps members, the Grinnell Education Partnership stepped into its essential role of adding capacity so that area programs can do more together. GEP helped to hash out a plan with LINK, a full-day summer camp program focused on engaging enrichment activities. This year LINK accepted half-day participants who had attended SLICK in the morning. Additionally, SLICK and LINK shared 8 AmeriCorps members, providing AmeriCorps members with the hours they needed to fulfill requirements. This allowed both SLICK and LINK to utilize the power of AmeriCorps, which would have been otherwise impossible. Most importantly, it meant that programs were able combine focus to provide full-day care for 143 families who needed it without forcing them to choose one program over the other, and that children would interact with smaller student-to- adult ratios, high-dosage tutoring, and familiar faces across multiple programs.
Data on reading fluency was collected during pre- and post-testing during the summer and is in the process of being analyzed to inform future efforts. We hope that this will be consistent with similar progress that we’ve seen in prior years. Using the data and positive feedback from this year’s students and families, the programs are already collaborating with GEP on changes for next summer’s programs which will continue to focus on literacy enrichment within small groups, supported by shared AmeriCorps volunteers.