October 27, 2013

AmeriCorps workers needed at Carrabec school

Program, aided by a federal grant, aims to help the district improve with assistance

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

NORTH ANSON — On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Rebecca Ellis worked on algebra homework with student Taylor Bartlett in the cafeteria of Carrabec High School.

click image to enlarge

EDUCATION RESOURCE: Eleni Margaronis, a site coordinator for Learning Works that oversees a grant for the AmeriCorps volunteer program, is hoping more will apply to tutor at Carrabec High School in North Anson.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

MENTOR: Rebecca Ellis, left, tutors Carrabec High School student Taylor Bartlett recently at the North Anson school. Ellis is an AmeriCorps volunteer and one of five volunteers to participate in the program thanks to a $726,800 federal grant to hire up to 35 volunteers.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Ellis, a 2011 graduate of the high school and now a psychology major at the University of Maine at Farmington, has returned as an AmeriCorps service member to tutor and mentor students.

She is one of five members who have been recruited to participate in the program, a small step toward fulfilling the potential of a $726,800 federal grant awarded to the district in August to hire up to 34 AmeriCorps members during the next three years.

The grant was awarded as part of AmeriCorps’ School Turnaround program, which places service members in schools that the U.S. Department of Education has designated as needing improvement.

“It’s definitely a great opportunity to get experience working with kids and being in a professional atmosphere,” said Ellis, 20, who began at the school this week. She said she heard about the program from her brother, a teacher at the school and decided to apply because it would be good experience and look good on a resume.

As a half-time member, Ellis earns money that can be used to pay college tuition, something she says has allowed her the time to volunteer instead of having to work a part-time job for extra money.

Service members earn stipends and scholarship money — up to $17,500, with the actual amount depending on the number of hours they work — which starts with a mininum 300-hour commitment.

Yet despite the reasons Ellis cited for participating in the AmeriCorps program, a site coordinator overseeing the program said the number of applications the program has received so far has been low. About 30 more people are needed. 

“We are trying to fill these spots as soon as possible. The sooner they are filled the better, because then people can start working and their hours can go towards the educational reward,” said Eleni Margaronis, a site coordinator for Learning Works, a Portland-based education advocacy group that is overseeing the administration of the grant to Carrabec and four other Maine schools that also received federal AmeriCorps grants in August.

A total of $2.2 million was granted to the schools, which include Spruce Mountain High School in Jay, Ellsworth High School, East End Elementary School in Portland and Riverton Elementary School in Portland.

Nationwide, AmeriCorps applications are rising, so Margaronis said she was a little surprised that more people haven’t applied for the opportunity at Carrabec. The national organization provides stipends to college-age students while providing community service to needy areas.

In 2011, the organization received 582,000 applications for 80,000 positions, according to the most recent data from the Center for National and Community Service, which is responsible for operating the AmeriCorps program. That number is up from 360,000 applications in 2009, spokeswoman Samantha Warfield said. She said the program doesn’t track of the number of applications by state.

Spreading the word

The slow application rate at Carrabec and Spruce Mountain, where Margaronis is also a site coordinator, might reflect the fact that the area is sparsely populated, so fewer people are available.

“I really don’t think people in this area know about AmeriCorps. It’s something we’ve been advertising and promoting, trying to get people to figure out what this is. AmeriCorps in general does amazing things throughout the country, and the opportunities after anyone participates are endless, whether they want to do things in Maine or travel,” Margaronis said.

One of the program’s biggest benefits for young people is the chance to make contacts and get references as well as gain experience in a potential career field such as education, she said.

(Continued on page 2)

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