News

Cuts don't stop AmeriCorps

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

Although the federal government cut Federal Way Public Schools’ AmeriCorps members from 22 to 15 in June, the program is still going strong with a little help from a business.

Capital One donated $29,000 to the program — a sizable grant that enables AmeriCorps to maintain last year’s level of tutoring for students.

Monda Holsinger, AmeriCorps director for Federal Way schools, said no services have been cut this year, and no schools suffer for lack of funds. In fact, three elementary schools — Sunnycrest, Mark Twain and Olympic View, each of which had one reading tutor last school year under the Reading Corps program — gained an additional tutor this year. Mirror Lake and Wildwood will retain the Reading Corps program this school year, but will have only one reading tutor each.

Determination of which schools receive Reading Corps tutors is based on how well the schools fulfill qualifications and the percentage of students on the free and reduced-price lunch program.

Holsinger said the grant from Capital One in July made it possible for AmeriCorps to continue thriving in the district.

“They did it because our focus is working with at-risk kids, education and community-building,” Holsinger said.

Holsinger said $15,000 of the grant will pay the federal government’s requirement of $1,000 per tutor, and $2,500 will go to pay for AmeriCorps’ six Vista leaders who coordinate volunteer efforts and sometimes tutor in reading. The rest of the money will go toward operations and running the AmeriCorps after-school programs at Westway Community Center and Camelot Square.

AmeriCorps’ tutoring programs for 2003-04 kicked off the week of Sept. 15. Tutors — also known as AmeriCorps members — must commit to a minimum 10.5 months of tutoring. They must pass a State Patrol criminal background check, have a good college or work history as well as good references, and be over the age of 18.

While AmeriCorps members don’t need to be college graduates, about 95 percent are. For 40 hours of tutoring service each week, an AmeriCorps tutor is paid a pre-tax stipend of $825 a month. And at the end of 10 and a half months of tutoring with a minimum of 1,700 hours, the tutors receive a $4,725 educational voucher.

“These are people that just have incredible hearts,” Holsinger said of the tutors. “I’m a better person because I know these people. It is absolutely a service experience.”

Even so, many tutors find it difficult to live on the $825 a month. Although some tutors return to AmeriCorps for the next school year, the numbers are few.

But the help of unpaid volunteers helps the AmeriCorps program succeed. With the tutors set for the school year, Holsinger said her next step is to recruit about 350 volunteers.

Holsinger also helped coordinate a tutoring program with DeVry University students. The students, who major in information technology, network and communications management and electronics engineering, tutor in math, science and reading. So far, six DeVry students have joined the program, now in its second year. They are paid through the government work-study program.

“We are so proud of our AmeriCorps program. It’s probably one of the best programs in the country,” said district spokeswoman Diane Turner. “The work these members do is priceless, and the test scores show their progress. Those young people are so dedicated, and Monda (Holsinger) does such an outstanding job in coordinating the program.”

Turner said Holsinger “finds support for the program in the most needed areas. Because the members are so active in the community, everyone appreciates the work that they do. That program changes lives - not only the members lives, it changes the children’s lives.”

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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