Though many places returned to in-person activities over the summer months, it seems clear that hybrid and online programming will be a consistent part of the future of schooling and outreach. The local grade-level reading campaign in Grinnell, Iowa, operating under the name of the Grinnell Education Partnership (GEP), serves a rural constituency in the middle of the state. Groups in Grinnell such as the Drake Community Library and the Grinnell College Museum of Art (GCMoA), with backbone support and AmeriCorps volunteers provided by GEP, have developed several approaches over the past year to increase access and reach families and students from afar.
Various GEP co-creators in the Grinnell community have cooperated to establish online outreach for families during this past year. Not only do these programs allow for folks to attend remotely if required for health and safety reasons, but they are also potentially more accessible for families who do not have the resources, whether they be time, money, or transportation, to attend in-person. GCMoA and Drake Community Library ran a successful program beginning in summer 2020 that provided activity bags and online programming to children in the community. This program continued throughout the fall and into 2021, offering an interactive activity package that could be picked up from the library and used during online Saturday programming (https://www.grinnelleducationpartnership.org/post/service-highlight-saturday-programming-with-drake-community-library), reaching 135 children in the area from October to March. With the support of GEP AmeriCorps members, GCMoA ran live virtual Tuesday Dance Parties (https://www.grinnelleducationpartnership.org/post/service-highlight-tuesday-dance-parties-with-drake-community-library) which focused on books related to dance, music, and personal expression with over 70 attendees through the spring and summer.
This summer brought the chance to incorporate new interactive online technology from the library across several Grinnell summer programs aimed at literacy enrichment. Grinnell Education Partnership VISTA member Grace Morrison collaborated with Drake Library to develop reading challenges and book lists on a website called Beanstack. This site allows readers of all ages to virtually track time spent reading as individuals, a family, or as a classroom. Summer programs at GCMoA and Drake Library, as well as the Grinnell-Newburg Community School District’s literacy program (SLICK), integrated Beanstack to allow participants to earn virtual badges, tickets for drawings, and real-world prizes, such as free donuts and books. 246 students used the Beanstack while participating in local summer programs, logging over 100,000 minutes of reading. Beanstack also provided backbone organizations with participant data to report to funders and help guide future efforts. GEP continues to support the partnerships that allow Grinnell programs to do more together. As Tilly Woodward, Curator of Academic and Community Outreach at GCMoA and GEP partner, stated “The pandemic really reinforced how important it is to connect, to be thankful for our time together, and that teamwork and partnerships allow us to do much more.”