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AmeriCorps may be the opportunity you are seeking

By Tim Penny

Numerous studies have demonstrated the correlation between early childhood education and school success. Early childhood programs result in less incidence of grade retention, lower rates of special education, and higher elementary school performance in math and reading. That is why the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) has invested in early childhood programming.

We believe the strength of our region’s future work force requires that children who enter our school system are ready to learn.

SMIF supports these efforts through incentive grants and community coalitions and by administering the AmeriCorps program in this region. For 14 years, SMIF has partnered with AmeriCorps (often referred to as the domestic Peace Corps). In all, this partnership has engaged more than 400 members — dozens of whom in the past several years have been dedicated exclusively to developing the reading skills of children in early childhood settings (such as Head Start centers).

For the next three years, SMIF will continue its emphasis on early childhood by recruiting AmeriCorps volunteers to help develop the social and emotional skills among preschool children. Social and emotional development is related to a child’s ability to regulate and express emotions, to form close and secure interpersonal relationships, and to explore the environment and learn. Research shows that it is just as important as literacy, language and number skills in helping young children prepare for school.

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Do you know of someone seeking a rewarding life experience? Is there someone you know who is taking a break from college or has graduated and needs time to consider career goals? How about someone who is in between jobs and has an interest in serving the needs of children?

Our AmeriCorps project just might be the opportunity they are looking for. AmeriCorps members receive a living allowance, health care, and an education grant to pay for school loans or college tuition.

New AmeriCorps members will begin their service in late August to serve in local Pre-K and Kindergartens, as well as Head Start centers and other local early childhood programs. They will serve one year and become part of a team trained to be advocates, coaches, and champions for social/emotional school readiness. We are specifically (though not exclusively) looking for AmeriCorps volunteers to work in the following communities: St. Charles , Preston , Ostrander, Hayfield, Hokah and Caledonia.

For 22 years, SMIF’s partnership with local leaders and community organizations has helped identify assets and advance community goals. Our partnership with AmeriCorps is another outstanding example of the success such partnerships can bring. Our AmeriCorps members are directly and positively impacting early childhood efforts throughout southern Minnesota — and that, in turn, will position our region for long-term growth.

To learn more about the AmeriCorps opportunity, please visit http://www.smifoundation.org/membership.html or contact Janet Lundstrom at SMIF, 507-455-3215, janetl@smifoundation.org. The application deadline is July 15.

Penny, a former U.S. congressman, is president of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

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