AmeriCorps Members are Trailblazers in Transitioning Communities to Remote and Distance Learning

Wisconsin Corps adapt nature-themed camp to social-distance learning
Alexander de Avila

All around the country, AmeriCorps members are taking the lead in helping communities transition to online learning.

These efforts come at an especially critical time for the country, while states and school districts are still making decisions about instruction in the fall. Below are just a few examples.

Teach for America (TFA) has been hard at work preparing for the transition to online learning. The organization redesigned its in-person training experience for incoming corps members by building and launching a comprehensive new virtual training platform in partnership with the Teaching Channel; they’ve also revisited their in-school support programming to better meet current educator needs. Meanwhile, more than 5,000 TFA AmeriCorps members have been serving with local school districts and other partners to determine – and respond to – changing student needs, and have been able to leverage their national networks to access materials for their student lesson plans. TFA National has also set up a COVID-19 Education Resources Hub where educators can sign up for trainings on remote teaching or access information on how to address trauma during the pandemic. The organization has also launched a crowdfunding platform where alumni can fundraise directly for projects that mitigate learning loss, food insecurity, the digital divide, and ways to quickly improve remote learning experiences.

Jumpstart has leveraged their AmeriCorps members to continue to support children’s language, literacy, and social-emotional skills. They quickly built out an online collection of resources in both English and Spanish, including book reading recordings and learning activities, along with resources and tips for children and families to navigate the new world of COVID-19. This fall, they will continue to offer many resources and recordings that bring to life their curriculum and learning activities, along with adapting in-person service for individual preschools, when possible, and offering live, virtual programming for families to engage in and learn in together.

School-based learning is not the only area where AmeriCorps members have made an impact; members are also finding innovative ways to transition extracurricular programs to an online format, offering communities new remote opportunities for summer camps and online training courses. 

FoodCorps members have had to find creative ways to continue their service providing food and nutrition learning. Their members created over 200 video lessons and optimized 35 classroom activities for distance learning. Students can now complete remote activities like sorting and grouping healthy seeds and cooking with ingredients that help children grow – all activities that further FoodCorps’ mission of connecting kids to healthy food in schools.

In Wisconsin, AmeriCorps members have pioneered ways to serve remotely. Wisconsin members have led programmatic transitions in everything from STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) to nutrition and farming education. Some programs, like Blugold Beginnings’ robotics camp, have fully transitioned to online status. Other organizations like WisCorps have found innovative ways to maintain in-person instruction while remaining physically distant.

When COVID-19 hit, Blugold Beginnings members jumped into action. They developed an online curriculum for students to learn about robotics. Members mail out camp kits that the participants then use to complete educational activities during online member-led sessions. The camps have had fascinating guests drop by remotely, including representatives from SpaceX.

Another Wisconsin AmeriCorps program, WisCorps, has adapted its nature-themed summer camp to the realities of physical distancing. Children still participate in in-person learning; conducting nature investigations, outdoor crafts and games, and other activities. Each week the camp has a different theme to keep participants engaged. Upon arrival, every participant receives their own exclusive Nature Play Kit made up with materials that are kept separate and used only by the kit’s owner. Counselors ensure that the children maintain their distance and that group areas are kept clean at all times.

AmeriCorps members are also helping people access education and career guidance, issues with growing importance during this pandemic. College Advising Corps has been focused on empowering individuals who have been admitted to college successfully enroll in their school of choice. They are adapting programs to ensure that college-bound high school graduates get to class in the fall. Up to one-third of students bound for college do not make it to campus due to missing hard deadlines, failing to submit paperwork, and other administrative challenges – a phenomenon known as “summer melt”. College Advising Corps partnered with the University of Missouri to launch a free text-based program to advise new high school graduates throughout the summer. Students who sign up for the service receive text message reminders from committed AmeriCorps members on everything from FAFSA verification to class registration to orientation.

“Summer melt” is not the only yearly phenomenon that students have to worry about – there is also what is known as “summer slide”, where students of all grade levels have trouble retaining skills and information learned in school during the last year. This can be especially acute as historic challenges around educational access that have been exacerbated during the pandemic. The national nonprofit Reading Partners has been able to transition its reading curriculum online by leveraging AmeriCorps members to develop 15 skill-based videos that include guidance to help parents and teachers maximize learning and lesson impact. The organization will also be implementing its new online tutoring program, Reading Partners Connects, and other student support programs within its Reading Partners Beyond innovation initiative with the efforts of AmeriCorps members embedded in the organization.

The actions taken since the outbreak of COVID-19 by AmeriCorps members are a testament to the resilience and flexibility of national service programs. Day in and day out, AmeriCorps members demonstrate the enormous impact of their service. The work being done by AmeriCorps members impacts education at all levels, from early learning and pre-K to middle school, high school and college, as well as extracurricular learning and summer camps. No matter what level of education a student is at, one thing is clear: the upcoming fall restart will preface one of the most challenging school years in memory. All along the way, AmeriCorps members will be there with innovative solutions to serve student communities.

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