AmeriCorps Vista Summer Associates Are Working to Create a More Literate Mid-South

Tuesday, Jul 12, 2016
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In our post “Summer Reading With Literacy Mid-South,” we discussed a phenomenon called Summer Slide. Here’s its basic premise: students who don’t engage in educational opportunities during summer vacation risk losing some of the academic gains that they made during the school year. An active summer with reading and literacy focused activities can assist students in retaining key reading abilities, and in some cases, can even help to address the achievement gap. For the past year, Literacy Mid-South has been building and implementing a summer reading program in collaboration with several community partners from all over Memphis. The summer reading program is currently serving thousands of children, providing them with books and reading instruction throughout their summer vacation.

In order to reach over 3000 students and serve 30 organizations, AmeriCorps VISTA provided Literacy Mid-South with 20 Summer Associates who are committed to the cause.  The VISTA members were trained, and provided with the skills they needed to help attack this issue. These AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates are Mid-Southerners dedicated not only to improving summer reading, but also to impressing upon the community the importance of literacy. Each Summer Associate works at a different community partner’s site, and performs reading pre- and post-assessments, serves as a point of contact between the community partner and Literacy Mid-South, and helps to deepen the community partner’s understanding of the importance of ongoing literacy skills training.

Esther Kang, an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate serving at W. H. Brewster Elementary School, thinks that this program is very necessary. During her time there, Esther has gotten to know Memphis a little bit better, and also has gained a deeper understanding of the need for reading intervention. She’s found the work at her site “refreshing, frustrating, and challenging,” but says that it’s a great program. Esther’s most impactful moment was working with a student who read at a significantly lower level than he needed to for school.

“He was just so grateful for the attention and positive reinforcement,” Esther said. “And it’s helped his self-esteem and changed his perspective of reading and learning.”

Rodney Frison is a Human Services Major at the University of Memphis, and serves at the YMCA Davis site housed at Riverside Missionary Baptist Church. Rodney does not have a background in education, and this was actually his first time working with children in this type of program.

“Now, I can definitely see the need for literacy services,” Rodney said. His time as an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate has taught him more about the power of networking and taking a collaborative approach to solving community issues. And for Rodney, the most powerful collaboration that he’s seen is with parents. “We’re establishing reading as an at-home thing too.”

Alexandria Wallace, a Music Education major at the Universty of Memphis and Summer Associate at Knowledge Quest, was initially nervous about starting work in an area of the city so different from where she’d grown up. She was suprised at how engaged the entire community, particularly the parents and children, was in her work.

Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate with the Literacy Mid-South summer reading program has affected Alexandria’s career goals. She’s thinking about the impact that education can have on children, and is perhaps considering a change of major.

“Now that I see how much these kids need a fantastic education, I want to help.”