AmeriCorps post to help build community educationWORTHINGTON — Every year for the past 10 years, Global Volunteers — adult volunteers brought in from outside Worthington — have worked with students in District 518’s Community Education program.
By: Laura Grevas, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Every year for the past 10 years, Global Volunteers — adult volunteers brought in from outside Worthington — have worked with students in District 518’s Community Education program.
“It’s really an engaging process for students in ABE (Adult Basic Education). They also build really close relationships within three days with the volunteers. So much so that there are tears on both sides when they leave,” said Jerry Fiola, director of community education.
And every year, Fiola has wished he could provide more of the same.
“Every year after that experience we think it’s a shame we can’t provide these language opportunities on a more regular basis,” he continued, but the district has lacked the human resources to develop its volunteer program.
An AmeriCorps VISTA worker, secured through the Minnesota Literacy Council for each of the next three years, will help with that goal.
According to the AmeriCorps Web site, VISTA workers “focus their efforts on building the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of organizations that fight illiteracy, improve health services, foster economic development and otherwise assist low-income communities.”
This year’s VISTA worker, Susan Fratzke, will help jump start a three-to five-year campaign to build the volunteer base within several community education programs.
They include Adult Basic Education, Head Start, and, eventually, the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant program, which helps students with coursework outside of the classroom.
Though Fratzke’s efforts will begin in Worthington, Fiola said he hopes the volunteer program can eventually expand to the 10 area school districts served by community education, including Fulda, where there is a sizeable Burmese population.
Ideally, he said, there could be about three volunteers in each ABE class, providing extra help to those teaching English as a Second Language, Citizenship, adult literacy and GED skills. When the need for one-on-one tutors in the 21st Century program is included, 100 or more volunteers could be used. Currently, there are 12.
Fratzke’s efforts are especially relevant with the approach of International Literacy Day, which will be celebrated Tuesday.
“It’s kind of been something different every week,” she explained. Fratzke — who hails from Ames, Iowa — has spent her first month sitting in on classes, determining each teacher’s need for volunteers and developing a management system for new volunteers. She hopes to work with community organizations like Kiwanis and the Worthington Area Ministerial Association to get the word out and recruit volunteers.
“I really enjoy organizing and planning things,” she said with a laugh. She hopes to recruit 15 new volunteers this year and formalize the way volunteers are used, including starting to have volunteers complete a short training program before they begin.
“Because we do have a really big need for volunteers it’s difficult to say ‘Let’s wait to have you go in the classroom,’ because the teachers could use them now. It’s difficult to know how to balance that,” she said.
Kieth Olson, a retired school teacher from Worthington, has volunteered since his retirement in 2001.
“I have been working with adults that are trying to get their GED, or working on their language skills,” he said. “It’s just kind of a feeling of obligation where you’re helping someone out; doing someone a good turn and helping them improve themselves somewhat.”
Fratzke graduated this spring from Iowa State University with degrees in political science and international studies. She applied to several VISTA programs in Minnesota that dealt with her interests in literacy programs involving volunteers, refugees and immigrants.
Fratzke’s interest was in such matters was piqued when she visited classrooms in Germany while researching her senior thesis. She said she’s seen a number of parallels between that country’s literacy programs and those here in Worthington.
For example, she said “students might have a good oral grasp of the language but not be able to read and write it or they might not be able to read and write in their own language.”
Fratzke hopes to use Tuesday as an informal kick-off for her recruitment efforts. Those interested in volunteering may call 372-1219.