With only two months left of my VISTA service year, on one hand I find myself excited for my next step, while on the other hand, I am slightly grieving the fact that I will be leaving behind all the progress I have made at the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (EUPISD). As we have been scrambling to find someone who will take over next year, I have been getting everything ready for this prospect. This process has brought me to reflect upon all of the successes that have occurred throughout the year. When I signed on as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, or the amount of growth I would experience. With that being said, you could not pay me to give back this past year. It has helped me to re-discover my sense of self, which I feel may have been temporarily lost somewhere along the road.
Of this year’s triumphs, I will definitely miss the Read to Succeed EUP program the most. At the very beginning of my service year, our General Education Director at the time, Michelle Ribant, came to me with the idea starting an educational book exchange program. This program would utilize books collected through the 2014 Read n’ Give drive. Having just begun my VISTA year in August and realizing how much work the position alone was going to entail, the idea of creating/running a program on my own seemed like a big feat. I wasn’t entirely sure I could handle it on top of the other responsibilities. The best plan seemed to be to let the idea sit in my mind for a week or two. During this time I tried to figure out how the project would fit into my VISTA Assignment Duties (VAD). After recognizing the benefits this program would offer to children in the region, I knew that I was meant to take on this project as my VISTA year initiative (VYI).
Michelle, my supervisor (Marianna Ripple), and I sat down for about two hours to talk about what they had been envisioning for this educational book exchange program and compile ideas. After conceptualizing, we recognized that a reasonable launch date would be sometime in late October, the program could reasonably convene on a monthly basis, and we would meet on a selected Saturday in the EUPISD office building. The monthly dates were then tentatively picked for the entire year. Once we had a general idea of how the program would run, I consulted students from Sault Area High School for ideas on what we would name this program. A list of ideas was generated, and I had faculty members including our Superintendent, Dan Reattoir, vote on which name they liked the best. At the end of the day, Read to Succeed EUP was chosen for this literacy endeavor.
67 EUP families and 117 Pre-K 6th grade students (along with a number of even younger children) to participated in our program between October 2014 and June 2015. While some families attended just once, other families returned on a monthly basis. I have partnered with many local schools and community organizations to help supply volunteers promote events and pack the program full of interesting information. Some of this year’s partner organizations included: Chippewa/Luce/Mackinac Conservation District, Department of Natural Resources, League of Women Voters EUP, Great Start Collaborative, and Eagle Radio. Ideas for improving Read to Succeed EUP have included broadening the program to target a larger age range, hosting at different site locations and increasing technology use.
While our fingers are still crossed that we will confirm on a VISTA for next year, we are continuing to reflect on this past year not just on Read to Succeed EUP, but also with service-learning in general. We are continually exploring how to strengthen, sustain and expand the program in 2015-16.
We wrapped up the school year by participating in a service-learning project with a strong potential for impact on the community. This project stemmed from a partnership with our local MSU Extension FoodCorps member, Katherine O’Donnell. She connected me with the Chippewa/Luce/Mackinac Conservation District Executive Director, Kristina Denison who was seeking support on an upcoming initiative. Consumers Energy and Michigan International Speedway partnered to provide 50,000 white pine seedlings for distribution throughout the state. This was part of their effort to get “on track to a greener Michigan”. Denison needed groups to help plant the seedlings, and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to incorporate service into the science curriculum throughout the region. When planting was finished, 1-12th grade students from nine schools across all three counties planted approximately 1,250 seedlings.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!