Doing good things: AmeriCorps receives new round of funding

HOUGHTON — Superior AmeriCorps will keep going for at least another three years after its fiscal agency, BHK Child Development Center, recently received another round of federal funding to continue the program.

The local program is one of the oldest in Michigan, having operated since 1997. On an annual basis, it recruits members to foster literacy skills at elementary schools and preschools across Houghton and Baraga counties.

There are 13 members currently, said Marcy Erickson, program director for Superior AmeriCorps.

“We have the ability to have more than that, but we don’t have enough partnering sites right now,” she said.

Current partnering sites are the elementary schools in Baraga, Calumet, Hancock, Houghton and South Range. Five members are also at B-H-K Child Development, where they will serve eight to 10 preschools in the region.

Members help support teachers with students who are struggling with reading. They’re trained in reading and literacy interventions.

“They’re just an extra support person to help out with reading books, practicing sounds and spelling words,” Erickson said.

Students are referred to the AmeriCorps member, who meets with them every week one-on-one or in small groups throughout the school year. They try to kindle a love of reading in the children, and teaching them letter recognition, identification of site words and reading comprehension skills.

Superior AmeriCorps also donates books to the children.

“The most important factor determining student academic success is access to books at home,” Erickson said.

Literacy skills are especially important to build in the years before fourth grade, where the emphasis shifts from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” Erickson said.

There are numerous statistical indicators showing the importance of reading proficiently by the end of third grade, Erickson said. Students who haven’t developed those skills are more likely to live in poverty as an adult, less likely to go to college and more likely to become incarcerated.

“Trying to prevent that is a huge, huge thing,” she said.

AmeriCorps members also do extra service projects in the community. They organize a reading camp every year for Reading Awareness month. They conduct a book drive for gently used books, which are then given away to children. Last year, members took children to nursing homes to read to senior citizens.

Over the years, they’ve also taken part in site cleanups at the Hancock beach or along highways.

Erickson said AmeriCorps is helping with necessary services as funding cuts reduce the amount of support available to students.

“AmeriCorps members can come in and fill in the gaps, especially for students who don’t qualify for special ed services in the schools,” Erickson said. “We can work with any students. I think what we’re doing is going to become more and more critical over time, and the number of students with low literacy skills increase.”

Erickson encouraged anyone interested in joining AmeriCorps, or schools wanting to partner with AmeriCorps, to contact her at 487-6600, extension 145.

“We are always looking for more schools to partner with us,” she said. “We have at least seven slots available we can still fill this year.”

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