AmeriCorps members lend helping hand

Published 5:19 pm Tuesday, October 15, 2013

For nearly two decades, volunteers have come from near and far to help Butler County students succeed.

Each year since 1997, the AmeriCorps Instructional Support Team (AIST) has partnered with the Butler County Board of Education to provide reading and math support to students ranging from preschool to 12th grade.

The 26 AmeriCorps members that serve in Butler County are critical to the success of “high-need students,” according to Program Director Carol McArthur.

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“For teachers, regularly delivering individualized, one-on-one instruction is difficult, if not impossible,” she said. “Because AmeriCorps members are focused solely on providing reading and math support, they can target instruction and dedicate the time needed for each child.”

AmeriCorps members also stay after school in the Butler County School District’s 21st Century Learning Centers at four schools in the district.

According to McArthur, the one-on-one instruction offered by AIST is paying dividends in classrooms across Butler County.

“The combination of passionate AmeriCorps members with the science of how children learn (is what makes the program a success),” she said. “Research told us that a focus on basic literacy skills, data-driven instruction, and trained tutors, who build trust and confidence with their students, were key to success.”

That formula coupled with a desire to see students excel is the cornerstone of the program.

But McArthur said the group’s impact extends beyond the hallways of Butler County’s schools.

“You will find AmeriCorps members at many community-wide events such as Old Farm Day and Dunbar Recreation Center’s summer program and annual Halloween event,” McArthur said. “In Georgiana, an AmeriCorps member opens the Rose Library on Saturday mornings, and McKenzie School depends on their AmeriCorps members for every special event at school and in their community. AmeriCorps members are truly the helping hand in the school system and the community.”

McArthur believes its this commitment to community that sets the program, which is administered by the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Service and funded by a matching grant with the Butler County Board of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service, apart from similar programs.

“The program is not just labor intensive, it is love intensive,” she said. “It requires a large number of people who are willing to invest a year or more of their lives and care passionately about helping students succeed. Teachers, administrators and parents tell us that if not for AmeriCorps, their students would not be ready for the world of learning. Our community tells us that if not for AmeriCorps their projects would not be a success.”

Greenville High School Social Worker Bettdonna Mack is proof that the program has a lasting impact.

She served with AIST at R.L. Austin Elementary School in Georgiana during the 2001-02 school year. During that time, Mack tutored students and provided homework assistance.

While Mack’s time with AIST was geared toward helping students succeed, it also helped shape her career path.

“AmeriCorps provided me a service position where I learned valuable work skills and earned money for my education,” Mack said. “It also played a role in developing my appreciation for citizenship. AmeriCorps definitely shaped my career path, particularly by funding my continued education, but also by allowing me to be able to embrace the need for education for all ages. Upon completing my AmeriCorps term and earning a bachelor’s degree from Troy University I gained employment in post-secondary education and then transitioned to secondary education. This is a definite indicator that AmeriCorps Instructional Support will be part of me for the duration.”