AmeriCorps fills education demand
AmeriCorps' Daniel Lopez addresses other members as teammates Steven Santillan, Miriam Arcero, Kristy Troncozo and Christina McBrien wait to contribute additional information.
After a one-year absence, the Central Valley Communities for Children AmeriCorps Program is back, with the largest membership in its history, providing the potential to tutor more in need students than ever. Pre-service training began on Sept. 1 at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools’ office in Bakersfield for 56 members ranging in age from 17 to 55. Following the nine-day training period, they begin nine months of tutoring students, seven-hours-a-day, at various school sites in Bakersfield, Delano, Lamont, Shafter and Taft on Sept. 15.
Since 1995, AmeriCorps, a national service program, had tutored approximately 5,000 children in Kern County. Congress was unable to find funding to finance the program for the 2003-04 school year, temporarily putting AmeriCorps on hiatus. With funding restored for 2004-05, the Central Valley Communities for Children AmeriCorps Program is back and so is Director Jeff Coomber.
“New funding and increased membership helps us address real community needs, especially focusing on tutoring reading and math skills for those who require it most from kindergarten through 12th grade,” Coomber said. “But it is a two-way street, members grow with the program, too. They gain the experience required to work with children in an educational environment, which helps many who have goals of going on to become teachers in our communities. Even if they don’t, they build leadership skills from a job requirement which commits them to organize volunteer community service projects many weekends throughout the year.”
AmeriCorps members must be at least age 17, have a high school diploma or GED and be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or a lawful permanent resident alien. They are committed for a year to the program for which they receive a monthly $900 living allowance and, after successfully completing 1,700 hours of service, an education award of $4,725, which many use to help defray the costs of pursuing higher education.
On the first day of training, students put together one-scene, skits demonstrating their understanding of what was learned about the AmeriCorps program in a morning session. During the nine-day training, members will be introduced and expected to learn how to tutor English and math, administer and analyze student testing, perform CPR and first aid, recognize and report child abuse and exhibit cultural competency.
For some members, AmeriCorps offers a chance to expand on educational skills they already have put to use. Peggy Skeen is a 31-year veteran teacher and former AmeriCorps member of years past. She is back again.
“I need to earn a reading specialist credential, and AmeriCorps gives me the opportunity to put in practice teaching methods I am learning in college,” Skeen said. “But beyond that, it is aiding children who are struggling with reading to catch up with their classes. It provides that little extra help that sometimes parents are unable to provide.”
Alton Patterson, who was already working with at-risk students in an alternative education program, said he took a $300-$400 pay cut to become an AmeriCorps member, so he could learn more classroom teaching techniques.
“Much of what we will do takes place in after-school tutoring programs,” Patterson said. “And that’s good. With parents working, children need organized activities, and we can help focus their energies. Encouraging them to volunteer in their communities, can provide the inspiration to turn a bad life into a productive one. I want to be a part of making that happen.”
For more information about the Central Valley Communities for Children AmeriCorps Program contact Coomber at (661) 636-4523.
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