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Using AmeriCorps to Support Grade-Level Reading

The Grinnell Education Partnership takes the innovative approach of utilizing AmeriCorps grants to build community capacity and impact early learning by utilizing the Grade Level Reading framework. In this partnership, all participating organizations utilize their respective strengths for the benefit of the common good: 


The AmeriCorps grants, administered by Grinnell College, provides funding for AmeriCorps members to convene community-wide taskforce groups and implement pilot projects. To date, over 75 AmeriCorps members have been placed in this small, rural community (pop. 9,100) to support GLR initiatives. In this unique partnership, Grinnell College serves as the grant recipient and grant administrator for the AmeriCorps grant. Because Grinnell is a small town with a small, under resourced non-profit environment, Grinnell College is in a unique position to administer such a complex and administrative/compliance heavy federal grant. The AmeriCorps grant provides additional human resources to leverage the creativity and support for education already present throughout the community. 


The partnership also relies on the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation to serve as co-convener with Grinnell College and also to spearhead additional private fundraising, and oversee the dispensation of those funds. The community foundation's expertise provides a framework for leveraging financial resources needed to make new programming possible and future programming sustainable. 


Finally, the Grinnell-Newburg School District and an array of other community organizations provide community and content expertise to build high quality, sustainable programming. A sample of organizations that have "leaned in" to ensure that all of Grinnell's kids have access to the support and resources they need include: Grinnell Regional Medical Center, Poweshiek Iowa Development, Grinnell Chamber of Commerce, Grinnell Area Arts Council, Mid Iowa Community Action, Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation, Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation, Tiger Packs, The City of Grinnell, The Elizabeth Earle Magoun Club, EMC Insurance Foundation, Grinnell Newburg School District (including: Fairview, Bailey Park, Davis, Grinnell Middle and Grinnell High School), Iowa Valley Community College, Imagine Grinnell, Grinnell Mutual, AEA 267, Grinnell Community Daycare and Preschool, County Attorney, Grinnell College, Drake Community Library, Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College, Community Education Council, the Grinnell Parent Teacher Organization, Iowa Council of Foundations, and Volunteer Iowa. 

The program's aligned focus through capacity building has deeply affected the community. This initiative has brought together individuals and organizations in new ways to make a difference in the lives of Grinnell kids and the collaborative "can-do" spirit is shared among the volunteers, AmeriCorps members, host-site supervisors, Grinnell Newburg School district personnel and the program staff dedicated to this education focused effort. In the words of one participant, "There has been an increased amount of collaboration and communication between the district, taskforce members, and community partners that has paid huge dividends so far this year." 


In recognition of this innovative approach, the Partnership was recognized by the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation with the 2016 "Leave it Better than You Found It" award. In the fall of 2017, Grinnell was also one of two AmeriCorps programs in Iowa selected for a site visit by Chester Spellman, the new national director of AmeriCorps for the Corporation for National and Community Service. Volunteer Iowa, which oversees the AmeriCorps program in Iowa, chose to showcase the Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership, particularly for the opportunity to highlight the service happening in rural communities. Jamie Orozco Nagel, a Volunteer Iowa program officer explained, "It means a lot more for leaders like Chester to hear from people who are directly involved in administering an AmeriCorps program. The Grinnell team visit contributed in a meaningful way to the conversation at the national level to help improve AmeriCorps." In particular, Grinnell was selected as an example of a program that Volunteer Iowa believes has been successful in overcoming barriers to national service, particularly those that are unique to rural and small communities.


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