April 22, 2018
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‘We need an army’: Education group seeks more than 200 volunteers to help turn around six Maine schools

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Backed by a $2.2 million AmeriCorps grant, the Portland-based nonprofit LearningWorks is seeking approximately 200 new volunteers to assign to six schools in four Maine school districts.

The volunteers, who would be asked to work between 300 and 1,700 hours, would not be putting the hours in entirely for free, LearningWorks Executive Director Ethan Strimling said in a Thursday morning news conference. By going into the schools and doing one-on-one tutoring, community outreach or family engagement exercises, the volunteers would qualify for between $1,100 and $5,500 toward their own educational advancement, such as college tuition payments.

The schools where the volunteers will be used are Ellsworth High School and Sumner Memorial High School in Regional School Unit 24, Spruce Mountain High School in the Jay/Livermore Falls-based RSU 73, Carrabec High School of School Administrative District 74 in North Anson, and Portland’s Riverton and East End elementary schools.

Joining Strimling at Riverton on Thursday morning for a news conference announcing the grant were Maine Commission for Community Service Executive Director Maryalice Crofton and Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk, among others.

“When I called Manny [Caulk] up in February to tell him we were looking into this grant program and I asked him what he needed, he told me, ‘We need an army — if you can get me an army, I’m in,’” Strimling recalled. “Well, here we are. We got you an army.”

Strimling said anyone age 17 and older can sign up to be an AmeriCorps volunteer, meaning many high school juniors and seniors, as well as college students, can apply and qualify for the tuition help. For adults older than 55, the education aid can be passed down to children or grandchildren, Crofton said.

The prospect of older students mentoring younger ones in local schools appealed to East End Community School Principal Marcia Gendron.

“It reinforces the message to our younger students that there is value in going to college,” she said Thursday.

The schools where the volunteers will be deployed qualify for the reinforcements because they receive federal School Improvement Grants as low-performing schools on standardized tests mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Crofton said the coalition of Maine schools, applying under the LearningWorks banner, was able to compete for the AmeriCorps funding against more frequently awarded urban school districts elsewhere in the country because the group was able to show that the money would be used in nearly all corners of the state.

“This is the largest grant to come into Maine through AmeriCorps since 2003,” she said.

LearningWorks was one of 13 applicants to receive awards through the program this year.

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