Grinnell Education Partnership Recognized for Supporting Early School Success

October 08, 2020
2019 Pacesetter Award Logo

The national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR) recognized the Grinnell Education Partnership with Pacesetter Community Honors for its work in 2019 to support early school success and improve school attendance.

The Grinnell Education Partnership is a communitywide initiative that brings together nonprofits, area employers, the Grinnell-Newburg School District, and community volunteers. Supported by a team of AmeriCorps members working with local organizations across the community, the partnership is helping ensure that children in Grinnell get a strong start and a strong finish to their school experience. The national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading focuses on promoting early school success as an important building block of more hopeful futures for children in economically challenged families and communities.

“We applaud the civic leaders and local funders whose time, talent, energy, and imagination have fueled progress in these Pacesetter communities,” says Ralph Smith, managing director of the national campaign. “Mobilized communities — like these Pacesetters — support our big bet on the problem-solving potential of proximity.”

The Grinnell Education Partnership was recognized for outstanding alignment between the private, public, and social sectors to achieve measurable progress in literacy achievement in the short term and position the community for sustained progress in the future. “These national recognitions for Grinnell’s work are extraordinary,” says Melissa Strovers, director of collective impact in Grinnell College’s Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement. “The partnership is rolling into its sixth year of active programming with the support of AmeriCorps members, so to be consistently recognized at the national level with this award is very reflective of Grinnell’s can-do community spirit and commitment to supporting early education literacy success and improving school attendance.”

Grinnell College Serves as AmeriCorps VISTA Host Site

Grinnell College will continue to support the partnership with AmeriCorps members who help community organizations work together on these initiatives, providing a strong sense of campus community connection. Grinnell College serves as the host site for the AmeriCorps VISTA members who are placed in Grinnell through partnering agencies Volunteer Iowa and Campus Compact.

“AmeriCorps VISTA has allowed dozens of organizations across Iowa to leverage service as a strategy to meet critical community needs,” says Julie Struck, Volunteer Iowa program officer, VISTA, and Disaster. “AmeriCorps VISTA provides an opportunity for anyone over the age of 18 to give back in a meaningful way to their community, learn new skills, and earn money for college.”

“We are thrilled to continue this important work in the Grinnell community,” says Emily Shields, executive director, Iowa and Minnesota Campus Compact. “Campus-community partnerships are vital to education and national service contributes much-needed capacity to their success.”

This year, the Grinnell Education Partnership welcomes five AmeriCorps VISTA members who will be serving full time through August 2021. Grace Morrison, Jill Harris and Saiham Sharif ’20 started their service on Aug. 3, while Riah Coley, and Ziggy Thétard ’20 started on Aug. 31.

  • Riah Coley is serving as Grinnell Education Partnership planner. Coley has a background in education as a classroom teacher and curriculum planner for a variety of ages and as a program coordinator in higher education. She is passionate about equal access and social justice. This new role will focus on developing policies and procedures for the partnership overall and identifying growth areas to create sustainable programs to help Grinnell area children.
  • Jill Harris is serving as the Skills Gap Task Force coordinator. A retired Grinnell-Newburg teacher, Harris served in a similar role as an AmeriCorps member last year, moving to working remotely during the pandemic but continuing to collaborate with another AmeriCorps member to create the Raising a Reader program, which encourages parent(s) to begin reading with their newborn infant. Her goal as a VISTA member is to provide soft skill development support for Grinnell youth from cradle to career, with an emphasis on early childhood activities and opportunities.
  • Grace Morrison is serving as School Readiness Task Force coordinator. In March 2020, Morrison lost her position as a Peace Corps youth development volunteer in Costa Rica due to the pandemic and says this VISTA position will help fulfill her personal commitment to volunteer service. She wants to focus on strengthening support networks for Grinnell children so they feel more confident and prepared for school.
  • Saiham Sharif ’20 is serving as Family Engagement coordinator. Previously, Sharif served as an AmeriCorps member in the SLICK summer camp program at Grinnell’s Davis Elementary, working with second-grade children to maintain and improve their literacy skills. In his current position, he will build on the past initiatives with local organizations, partnering more actively with families. He is a ’20 graduate of Grinnell College with a major in English.
  • Ziggy Thétard ’20 is serving as the Healthy Readers Task Force coordinator. A ’20 Grinnell College graduate who majored in history and gender, women’s and sexuality studies, Thétard will focus on ensuring that students have mental and physical health resources available to them, especially in tackling online schooling and COVID-19 realities.

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