Reading help at Whatcom County schools, Boys & Girls Clubs continues despite federal cuts

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 6, 2013 

Boys Girls read corps

AmeriCorps Volunteer Michelle Staggs-Mayfield helps Quinn Ward, left, and Lucy Stanford make words with dice at the Boys and Girls Club of Whatcom County on Kentucky St. on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 in Bellingham.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

When AmeriCorps volunteer Michelle Staggs-Mayfield walked into Roosevelt Elementary School in Bellingham last week, she was mobbed by a crowd of adoring fans.

The kids already recognize Staggs-Mayfield as someone who's been helping them out with reading at school, and showing them how to make story-related art projects in the afternoons at the Boys & Girls Club.

She's one of six AmeriCorps volunteers that will continue to help Whatcom County schools with literacy programs this year, in coordination with the Boys & Girls Clubs, despite nationwide sequestration that started in March. The scheduled stoppage of federal funding for specific organizations forced some after-school programs like the Washington Reading Corps to shut down for lack of funds.

The state program partnered AmeriCorps volunteers with high-needs schools to help students who struggle with comprehension or are not reading at grade level. Before sequestration, state and federal dollars paid for more than 100 AmeriCorps members in Washington. The state money now goes to near-full funding for 32 positions, though the program itself was disbanded.

Whatcom County was able to secure a third of those 32 AmeriCorps members for area schools this fall.

The clubs pay the state a portion of the stipend for each volunteer, and share them with the schools as free assistance to help bridge the gap between school and home, said Christine Destry, development director at Whatcom's Boys & Girls Clubs. The volunteers work part time at the schools and part time at the clubs.

Local clubs first participated in the reading corps last year.

"It was re-teaching, re-learning and re-integrating things that were already being taught in schools," Destry said. "It was a huge success."

The elementary schools with club volunteers this year are Roosevelt in Bellingham, Central in Ferndale, Beach on Lummi Island and Fisher in Lynden. Happy Valley and Sunnyland elementary schools also were able to secure at least three more volunteers between the two of them, and may get a fourth, said Scott McDowell, the clubs' director of volunteer engagement.

Part of the success of the after-school programs is that volunteers pair literacy projects with fun activities like arts and crafts, said Jill Reid, Bellingham club branch director.

"If it looks like school, they're not going to want to do it," she said. "Kids can pick what they want to do here; they have lots of opportunities."

Fourth-grader Isabella Avelar showed off a picture of a horse she painted Thursday afternoon, Oct. 3, after Staggs-Mayfield read "The Hello, Goodbye Window" to the Story Book Art Club. She asked the kids to mimic the artwork in the book to illustrate a place special to them.

"I ask them, 'How did the artist make this?' and have them try to figure out what mediums are used and then we make our own," Staggs-Mayfield said.

The AmeriCorps members will continue to serve in Whatcom through next summer.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-756-2803 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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