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AmeriCorps Receives Grant to Continue Efforts: National Community Service Program Deepens Roots

Joe Brown
Features Editor

Shannon Langone had heard enough of the negative talk and criticism. This was her city that people were labeling as beyond hope, and she could not sit inactive on the sidelines anymore. For the Springfield native, it was time to act.

“I just got tired of people talking about how bad Springfield was, and there’s all this crime, and the kids aren’t graduating from school, and the schools are terrible. I was hearing all of these bad things about my city, and I love this city,” Langone said. “I was tired of people talking about how bad it was, but not really doing anything about it, and not contributing to their community.

“So when I decided to go back to work I said, ‘You know, I really want to do something meaningful, I want to do something where I can facilitate service in my city and show people how wonderful the kids here are and how great the schools are and how wonderful this city really is.”’

With that incentive driving her on, the Springfield College graduate (’97) joined the branch of AmeriCorps that runs out of SC in 2007 to begin fulfilling her personal mission to prove the naysayers wrong.

According to Langone, AmeriCorps is a national, community-service program.

“The best way to describe it would probably be as a domestic Peace Corps,” she said.

Now in her fourth year as the program director after entering the organization as the program coordinator, Langone is in charge of managing and approving all members, knowing the rules and regulations that must be followed, setting up site visits, compiling a list of the needs in Springfield, and most recently, applying for a grant.

Grants are so important to the continuation of the AmeriCorps program at SC because without a grant, the program essentially cannot operate because it will not have funding. This past year, the organization’s 16th in its existence, was critical to the organization because it was a “re-compete year.”

“These are three-year grant cycles, so we had just finished up our three-year grant cycle from 2009 to 2012,” Langone said.

With their grant expiring, it was essential to apply for the next three-year cycle.

The AmeriCorps at SC is a state program, so it reports to the Massachusetts Service Alliance, the state service commission located in Boston, which then reports to the Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington, D.C. Langone and her team have to meet constantly changing requirements when applying for new grants, and this year was no exception. The Corporation for National and Community Service wanted groups to use proven models to address specific focus areas this year, which called for some changes to the program that was already in place at SC.

“Our program was a little bit scattered,” Langone said. “We had 40 sites [and] we had members doing many different things, so we knew that we wanted to focus our program and that we really wanted to try to have our members work in teams and continue to work with the Springfield public schools, because they have been our partners since the beginning of AmeriCorps at Springfield College.”

To center the focus of their programs, Langone and the other full-time AmeriCorps members researched the needs of Springfield public schools. They agreed on assisting at-risk students and making it a goal to see them through to graduation and help them achieve academic success.

“We focused on the risk factors for drop-outs. We focused on poor attendance, behavior and disciplinary issues, and failure in core courses like English and Math,” she said.

Langone is planning on having teams of AmeriCorps members working in both middle and high schools as school counselors, academic coaches and transaction coaches. These members, 60 in all, are completely comprised of SC undergraduate and graduate students. Graduate students work for at least 900 hours per year, while undergraduates put in a minimum of 450 hours.

The students are trained to take on case loads of students that are identified as at-risk of dropping out early. They are working with a model taken from the Check and Connect model, which is “one of the only models for drop-out prevention that has been proven to work and has some evidence behind it and has had some positive results,” according to Langone.

“They’re basically building a relationship with the average students that are on their case loads, and they are their shadow and their mentor and their advocate for the year. They’re setting goals with them, they’re making sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, they’re making sure they’re in class [and] they’re checking in with them on a daily basis,” Langone said.

In addition to their programs at the middle and high school levels, Langone initiated a program that takes place from pre-kindergarten to third grade after discovering that literacy is a big risk factor for early drop-outs in high school.
The SC AmeriCorps program will place 12 literacy coaches at six pre-K sites in Springfield to implement the literacy-focused program.

After completing their extensive research and planning, Langone re-applied for a grant. She was not disappointed. The AmeriCorps program was awarded a total of $1.5 million in cash and education awards over the course of three years by the Massachusetts Service Alliance, which will be matched by the college and local partners. The Funder Collaborative for Reading Success also awarded $140,000 to the program to bring the total to $2.6 million over the course of three years, which greatly benefits the program’s community-based mission.

“We’re going to be able to have a larger impact on whether kids graduate in Springfield and whether they can read proficiently by third grade. If we’re successful, that’s only going to help us in writing future grants and making an even bigger impact and growing our core,” Langone said. “It just fits in so well with the mission of the college. We want to see our students out there engaging in the community, really attaining skills in the field, and that’s what they do through this program. And they can potentially really make a huge impact on the city that they’re going to school in.”

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