The mission of the Schenectady Bridge Builders AmeriCorps Program is to address the community’s educational need specifically in the area of literacy. Cornell Cooperative Extension, Schenectady County collaborates with the Schenectady City School District and the Schenectady Job Training Agency to implement this successful AmeriCorps Program. The program’s ultimate goal is to connect school and home in helping school-age students become proficient readers by the end of third grade. The program began in October 1997 with 12 members serving 1,200 students. Today, the program has 16 full-time members who serve 11 elementary schools and more than 1,400 students annually.
Each AmeriCorps member commits to one year of full-time service. In exchange for their commitment, they receive a modest living allowance of approximately $9,000 per year, health care benefits and an educational award when they fulfill the required number of service hours. Each member is assigned to an elementary school to work with students, Pre-K through 3rd Grade, on strengthening literacy skills. Many students participate in one-on-one or small group tutoring during the school day. After school, members implement programs that they have developed with teachers to address identified needs of the particular school. Some schools have implemented homework clubs, reading clubs, leadership clubs and community service clubs. The members take an active role in identifying the needs of the school, planning appropriate activities for the students and recruiting volunteers.
The Education Bridge Builders Program recognizes the paramount importance of the home and school connection. In order for students to succeed, their parents/caregivers need to provide stimulation and support learning activities at home. AmeriCorps members develop activities that families can complete at home to continue to strengthen literacy skills. Last summer, the members created a summer bag of learning for families. This bag included numerous tools such as an activity book designed by the members with simple literacy activities that could be done at home, at the store and in the car. These bags were seen throughout the city during the summer. Members also communicate with parents of students they are working with to keep them informed. One member designed newsletters for parents that suggested book titles and ways to extend a book after they finished reading it.
During the school vacations, the members implement literacy activities at various community agencies, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, Girls Inc., the Schenectady Museum and local branches of the library. Every year, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the members develop activities that focus on peace and freedom for children who visit the Boys & Girls Club that day. During the summer, members assist with summer school activities for elementary students. Many develop summer programs to continue the development of reading, writing and speaking skills, such as a newspaper club and a theater program. The members also assist with the implementation of SKORE (Schenectady Kindergarten Orientation and Readiness Experience). The primary purpose of the program is to give at-risk incoming kindergarten students a positive, supportive first school experience as a foundation for learning and school success.