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.
Hello! My name is Brianna Beaulieu and I am serving as a first-year AmeriCorps VISTA in the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (EUPISD). My VISTA role within the EUPISD is to coordinate service-learning by partnering with The LEAGUE Michigan. The EUPISD is the largest geographic district in Michigan. Covering approximately 4,000 square miles, it serves three counties, 17 school districts and 7,500 students. The EUPISD includes Chippewa, Mackinaw, and Luce County. My host site is within Chippewa County in the city of Sault Ste. Marie, which is on the border of Canada. Sault Area High School and Pickford Community Schools both have given me space within their building to come work out of as well.
Service-learning is a teaching methodology that engages students in service projects and/or events that are connected to the school's curriculum. For the month of January, service-learning has had a big focus on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and random acts of kindness. There have been classrooms throughout the ISD that have been writing thank you cards to police officers, firefighters, emergency workers, and more. These thank you cards are to show their gratitude towards service workers for keeping the community safe. In addition, students have been putting together thank you kits for their school aids, running food drives, pledging to do acts of kindness, and many other impressive service oriented activities. After I am done writing this I will travel with the volunteer coordinator from United Way of the EUP to Gros Cap Schools in Moran Township to help run a MLK Day of Service Project with their student council within Mackinac County for seniors and veterans.
For my Vista Year Initiative, I launched a literacy program on October 25th called Read to Succeed. This is a program that welcomes any youth to the ISD to participate in a fun and educational session for one Saturday per month. They are also able to trade in used books for new books or if they don’t have books to trade, they can take books home to read anyway. This is utilizing books from Read n’ Give. I am working on the exact number for how many students we have reached with the program so far, but the number is getting to be approximately 100 and some of these students have come back every month. It is wonderful to hear stories of how much this program is starting to gain appreciation. This month, we had a MLK Day theme for the program. The students and their parents all really enjoyed the kindness themed story, activity, snack, and craft. They always look forward to the book exchange at the end also.
As the year continues, I am looking forward to helping more classes participate in service-learning and getting to know more of the community that I am serving. With such a large area to cover, I am constantly making new partners which makes this job a true joy.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!