MARQUETTE - March was Reading Month in schools across the country and in Marquette, elementary students got swept up in the reading wave.
In classrooms, in hallways, in alcoves, in basically any place inside the school, students were getting caught reading and writing as they worked through March is Reading Month, hoping to earn a special treat during their schoolwide assemblies at the end of the month.
Intricately involved in the reading month activities were the various AmeriCorps members stationed in schools in the area. With a heavy focus placed on literacy, the AmeriCorps program gets its chance to shine in March as kids read and write all month long.
First-grader Liam Thompson, 6, writes down how he wakes up in the morning as an exercise during the Reading Month assembly Friday at Superior Hills Elementary School in Marquette. The month of March was celebrated nationally as Reading Month. Locally, Marquette elementary schools encouraged different reading and writing activities throughout the month, culminating in a school-wide assembly to celebrate the students’ achievements. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
A photo of the Superior Hills assembly. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
In Cherry Creek Elementary School - where the school population had participated in pirate-theme activities for the month - students got to "dunk" AmeriCorps member Cathy Phillips, pouring cups of water over head as though she had walked the plank.
"When you bring it all together in a month like this, there's a lot of enthusiasm," Phillips said.
In Sandy Knoll Elementary School, students got to spend time with their favorite characters from their favorite books and in Superior Hills Elementary School a few famous Dr. Suess characters stopped by for the day.
In Superior Hills elementary, AmeriCorps member Kimmie Conrad said a heavy focus had been put on writing, with students writing in daily journals.
"It's so good that they do things to make them feel good about it and to make them feel their writing is worthwhile," Conrad said. "It's really good seeing them actually formulate sentences and start writing it out and not just drawing pictures."
The AmeriCorps program focuses on students who are reading just below grade level, offering that little extra push they need to get to where they should be. Locally, the program is run through the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency.
Phillips, a former teacher, said the AmeriCorps program is an excellent addition to local school systems that often see their budgets cut year after year.
"We get to teach kids that maybe normally might not get the support if we didn't have that extra body," Phillips said. "The general saying is that if you don't have good reading skills nailed down by third grade, you're going to be struggling your whole educational life. So, we're there to help that hopefully not happen."
She also said the program can help provide more one-on-one time with students who are finding themselves in classes with more and more other students.
"Class sizes are growing in a huge way, so we're taking from a class of 28 students, maybe three or four max, and we're giving them that really individualized, intense instruction," Phillips said. "It's easy for kids like that to get lost in a group of that many kids."
Sandy Knoll Elementary AmeriCorps member Jeanne Sekely said this year's AmeriCorps members came from a variety of different backgrounds, each able to offer their own unique perspective.
"It's a really well-rounded group of us that brings many talents," Sekely said.
The program is federally funded by the Corporation for National Community Service through the Michigan Community Service Commission, which hands out grants to local agencies.
The Corporation for National Community Service engages more than 5 million individuals in community service across the country.
The corporation runs the AmeriCorps program nationally, with 80,000 Americans taking part annually.
According to information on the AmeriCorps website, more than 800,000 AmeriCorps members have contributed more than 1 billion hours in service across America since the program's founding in 1994.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.