AmeriCorps members lend helping hand

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2005

Most people believe that educators can work miracles. But even miracle workers sometimes need a helping hand.

The AmeriCorps Instructional Support Team, which is housed at the Butler County Education and Community Learning Center, is a local adaptation of the national AmeriCorps program, which was established in 1997 by the Butler County Board of Education.

&#8220Our AmeriCorps members are like another pair of hands,” Carol McArthur, AmeriCorps program director for Butler County Schools, said. &#8220Our teachers really depend on them for their extra help.”

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All AmeriCorps state programs fall under the Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

McArthur said that the twenty members, who are hired each October, receive two weeks of pre-service training. They are given pre-tests and post-tests in different areas such as language arts, reading, math and technology, which, in turn, help them to assist teachers in the classroom.

Once the AmeriCorps members are hired, they can only serve for two years. Upon completion of 1700 hours of volunteer service, the members receive an educational award scholarship in the amount of $4,725, which can be used toward tuition to the post-secondary school of their choice or toward college tuition loans. They also receive a monthly stipend, thus becoming a &#8220paid volunteer.”

According to McArthur, members provide assistance to students at risk of failure in grades preschool to first grade at W.O. Parmer Elementary School, McKenzie High School and at R.L. Austin Elementary School. At the BCECLC, AmeriCorps members assist teachers with students in the Bright Beginnings classes, Even Start and Head Start classes.

Members can be found listening to students read, tutoring children in math, making instructional materials for classroom activities or helping to organize special school events.

Kathy Higdon, AmeriCorps program assistant director for seven years, is a prime example of the success of the program.

Higdon was a member from 1997 until 1999, when she used her educational award scholarship money toward her Bachelor in Business Administration degree from Faulkner University in conjunction with LBWCC in Greenville. From there, she became the assistant director for the Butler County Schools' program, working with McArthur.

&#8220We have so many former members who are now with the school system as teachers, teachers' assistants or central office personnel,” McArthur said.

All 20 members are required to recruit, train and manage two community volunteers each. These volunteers will also help within the school system.

In addition to working in a school environment, AmeriCorps members also volunteer and serve in many community projects throughout the entire year, such as the Sweet Gum Bottom Blues Festival this past October.

This year's AmeriCorps group ranges in age from 18 to 57.

&#8220The oldest member we had at one time was 67,” McArthur said. &#8220It was a lady who just loved helping others.”

Butler County Schools' AmeriCorps program just recently received notification that it was chosen as one of the 51 most innovative programs in the United States.

Plus, there have been six Alabama AmeriCorps Super Hero Award winners from Butler County over the last nine years.

Kamilah Pate, who is in her second year as a member, said that the best thing about the program is working with the children.

&#8220I also love being able to go out into the community and help with things all around Greenville,” Pate said.

Pate already has plans to use her educational award scholarship toward a degree from Alabama State University.

McArthur, who has been over the Butler County program for the last nine years, is very proud of everything AmeriCorps members do.

&#8220The people in Butler County have a really generous and giving spirit,” McArthur said. &#8220Not only are we, AmeriCorps, helping schools, but we also generate community volunteers to perpetuate this volunteer spirit. It's a win-win situation.”