Portland elementary schools to benefit from $2.2M grant

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PORTLAND — Education nonprofit LearningWorks has announced a $2.2 million grant that will benefit two underachieving city elementary schools.

The three-year grant, provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service and U.S. Department of Education, is intended to improve student achievement at Riverton Elementary School and East End Community School.

“East End and Riverton Schools have amazing leadership and great teachers, and this partnership fulfills a promise to students and families that each child has a shot at the pathway to success,” Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said in press release last week. “Having AmeriCorps’ involvement will really help us achieve that. More importantly, it will accelerate student achievement and involvement in learning.”

The money will pay to organize and supervise AmeriCorps volunteers. About 60 volunteers will work at both Portland schools, helping to provide one-on-one tutoring, community outreach, family engagement and additional help for students before and after school.

Ethan Strimling, CEO of LearningWorks, said the grant will not only help students in the immediate school year, but will help build community around the schools to foster more long-term engagement.

“We’re not in the schools forever, but if families and communities get involved, we’ll be able to sustain this for a long time,” Strimling said.

Four other Maine schools are included in the grant: Ellsworth High School, Sullivan High School in Sumner, Spruce Mountain High School in Jay, and Carrabec High School in North Anson.

The grant is part of the School Turnaround AmeriCorps program.

The program supports organizations that serve low-performing schools around the country, especially in rural areas. In Maine it will serve about 1,800 elementary and high school students, and more than 1,300 family and community members.

To be eligible to receive the grant, schools already had to be receiving federal school improvement grant money, said Maryalice Crofton, executive director of the Maine Commission for Community Service, which coordinates with AmeriCorps.

Most of the schools benefiting from the grant are rural and geographically isolated, which is why LearningWorks was chosen as a community partner, she said. They were already involved in communities across the state and capable of facilitating large federal grants.

The AmeriCorps volunteers will devote between 300 and 1,700 hours of work at the schools. This will be the largest project in state for the organization, Crofton said.

The minimum 300 hours of service in one year required by AmeriCorps will help inject consistency into the volunteer work, something that otherwise might be missing, she said, noting that the average community volunteer commits about 37 hours. 

Volunteers who serve 1,700 hours will be eligible for an $1,100 college scholarship, called the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. The only requirement is that they must be at least 18 years old when their hours are completed.

Volunteers 55 years or older can designate a family member to receive the award, Crofton said.

The grant was also awarded to 13 other organizations across the country. The national program is supported by an initial investment of $15 million in public funds and will leverage an anticipated $18 million in grantee match funding during the three-year cycle.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.