The Corps Network Announces New Service & Higher Education Program


Corpsmembers taking part in innovative higher education pilot to obtain college credit for their service in Corps

Watersheds and Whiteboards: Montana Conservation Corps Member Shares Teaching Experience

Article, written by Katherine Boyk, appears on MCC KCrew Blog. Published June 22, 2014.

In early May I find myself on Brainard Ranch, north of Belgrade. I say that I find myself here because until this moment, I have not quite realized what I have gotten into. For just now, more than a dozen school buses are delivering over 300 fourth graders to the Gallatin Valley Agricultural Committee’s Farm Fair, where they will spend the day learning about many aspects agriculture from all sorts of experts—including me.

Standing on the damp ground, surrounded by our maps and models, I suddenly realize that I have no idea what to say to these kids.

I’m not an educator. I don’t know how to deliver a lesson, how to engage students, how much fourth graders understand about water. For that matter, my expertise of watersheds began only in January, when I started my term as a Big Sky Watershed Corps Member. And yet here I am, entrusted to deliver a meaningful, professional lesson on the water cycle to all of these students.

Luckily, I’m not here alone. Rose Vallor, and environmental educator and Board Member of the Greater Gallatin Watershed Council, my BSWC host site, is my co-leader at the water cycle station. I let Rose give the first lesson. I study what she does, how she engages students with questions, how she connects to their prior knowledge.

The next group parades in to our booth, and it is my turn to lead the surface water model. I sprinkle several colors of Kool-Aid powder, representing different types of pollutants, on to the plastic landscape and use a spray bottle to simulate rain. The students are thrilled by the demonstration: the red and green water, the gross idea of dog poop washing into streams and lakes.

And I am excited to find that the students are thoughtful and interested as we discuss how pollution from yards, farm fields, roads, and factories can drain to waterways and as we brainstorm actions to keep the water clean.

Rose demonstrates the groundwater flow model to explain how water moves underground. She uses food dye to show how pollution from leaky underground storage tanks can flow into wells and wetlands.

We give the same lesson sixteen times in five hours. And this is only day one of three. Over 1,000 students from school districts including Bozeman, Belgrade, Manhattan, Four Corners, and Church Hill will be attending this year’s Farm Fair.

The next day, I am joined by fellow Big Sky Watershed Corps Members Cecilia Welch (Park Conservation District) and Brandin Krempasky (Blue Water Task Force). As the first class files in, Ceci and Brandin have the same overwhelmed look that I felt the day before. I take the lead on the first lesson, and for the rest of the day the three of us work together.

It is fun to spend time with the students and rewarding to teach them about the importance of keeping water clean. But still, I wonder how much the students are learning from the brief lesson. We are talking about big concepts like watersheds, erosion, surface run-off, groundwater, and best management practices—can fifteen minutes do justice to these topics? And is our station on the water cycle being lost in the excitement of milking cows, petting horses, making ice cream, and going on hay rides?

Later in the month, I get the chance to answer these questions when I follow-up with three of the classes who attended Farm Fair. I’ve been asked to give a lesson about water pollution to the fourth graders at Emily Dickinson Elementary in Bozeman. This time, I’m on my own to prepare and deliver the lesson.

As soon as I walk into the classroom, one girl exclaims, “I know you, you were at Farm Fair!” I’m surprised that she remembers me (though, as I’m a redhead, I seem to be easily remembered) but even more impressed by how much the students remember of the hurried lesson on the cold day several weeks ago.

They can articulate the definition of a watershed—a concept many adults have a hard time understanding—and excitedly reiterate the highlights of the surface water and groundwater pollution demonstrations. They even remember that red Kool-Aid represented road salt and that coffee grounds were eroding soil.

All I have to do is ask probing questions and the students are able to figure out many of the lesson’s concepts. We talk about point-source and non-point-source pollution and how pollutants accumulate as water moves downstream. We create another list of ways to keep our water clean. The students do an activity, drawing houses and theme parks and castles along a paper river and brainstorming the sorts of pollution that could come from each site and how to reduce these sources.

I still feel unsure of myself as a teacher, uncertain of how to deliver the most effective lesson. I struggle to regain the students’ attention when they start talking over one another and when they become absorbed in perfecting their drawings. I have a new-found respect for the teachers who do this every day—I am exhausted after two hours.

As I leave the school, I sense that we have all received a lesson. The fourth-graders learned about the watershed, and I learned some of the basics of teaching. I discovered new strengths and weaknesses in myself and found joy in sharing my passion for environmental stewardship with these perceptive children.

And really, this is why I became AmeriCorps Member—to both provide service to the community and to learn and grow as a person and a professional. Thank you to the fourth graders for giving me this opportunity and sharing your enthusiasm for learning with me.


National Journal "Next America" Education Poll

Watch a video of the event

Photo highlights 

On Tuesday, April 8, 2014, staff from The Corps Network attended the third event in National Journal’s Next America series. Titled “Points of Leverage,” the event brought together government officials, educators, workforce experts and analysts to discuss when intervention is most effective in a young person’s education.  

As stated by National Journal:

Minority children are projected to comprise a majority of the K-12 population within this decade, and minority workers projected to provide all of the net increase in the workforce through 2030. As a result, many agree that increasing the skills and educational attainment of young, non-white people looms as one of the most pressing challenges to American competitiveness.

In an era of slow economic growth and tight public budgets, there remains considerable disagreement about not only the kind of intervention, but also the timing of intervention most likely to produce success. In other words, with limited dollars to spend, what is the point in the lifecycle of students and young workers where we can invest in them for the greatest return?

Panelists at the event tended to agree that early intervention (pre-K or early elementary school) is best, but there are still many things educators can do for underserved middle school and high school students to put them on the track to postsecondary success. These things include:

  • Educating students about the range of career possibilities 
    - Many educators agreed that students simply were not aware of career possibilities outside of what they had been exposed to in their own community or through popular culture
  • Providing materials about local colleges and other higher-ed institutions
  • Covering the cost of college application fees
  • Providing a mentor who can connect a young person with their future
    - Many students do not know anyone who has gone to college or completed some kind of alternative post-secondary program.
  • Helping students overcome self-discrimination

The event also featured a presentation by College Board, summarizing the results of a recent poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, about Americans’ opinions about education and the value of college. The survey included responses from 1,271 diverse adults age 18 + from March 18th – 26th of this year. Click here to read the findings.  


Channel Your Inner Santa: Promote Education as a Pathway to Life Success

As participants in the Crowdrise Holiday Challenge, The Corps Network greatly appreciates your donation to support our work cultivating the “Next Greatest Generation” of Americans. Each week, we will highlight some of our 2013 accomplishments. This week we will focus on our education initiatives.

The Corps Network (TCN) continues to address critical needs in the American education system with the Postsecondary Success Education Initiative (PSEI). The PSEI promotes GED and Diploma achievement and guides participants in the college enrollment process. Helping Corpsmembers further their education is a focus for many Corps. For the large number of young people who drop out of high school, Corps can provide a vital alternative education opportunity. Corps help disconnected young people catch up in their studies and earn a GED or high school diploma. Some Corps operate charter schools and combine service-learning with workforce development opportunities. Other Corps programs employ dedicated teachers who help Corpsmembers gain marketable credentials.  

In 2013, Corps programs in The Corps Network achieved the following:

         * Almost 5,000 students received a High School Diploma or GED while in a Corps (43% of Corpsmembers did not already have a GED/HSD)

         * 30 days after completing time at the Corps, 67% of Corpsmembers were enrolled in an education program (college or high school)

Through the Postsecondary Education Success Initiative we have served 229 participants in the first year-and-a-half of programming.
        * 72% of participants who needed a GED or HSD received one (many are still enrolled and working towards it)

        * 72% of students have submitted an application to a postsecondary program; 40% have enrolled.
The Corps Network takes pride in our work connecting national service with scholarships through our AmeriCorps Education Award Program and the recently launched Opportunity Youth Service Initiative (OYSI). OYSI will engage low-income and urban youth of color in conservation service. Participants of OYSI are enrolled in academic programming designed to lead to a high school diploma or GED, as well as workforce development designed to lead to workforce skills and job opportunities. TCN is proud of the many opportunities that OYSI participants will gain, and is looking to further the reach of this initiative to provide opportunities to a greater amount of America’s youth.

Since the launch of our education initiative, The Corps Network and its member Corps have demonstrated a decreased need for developmental education and an increase in postsecondary enrollment and persistence. The Corps Network has fortified educational opportunities for many youth by partnering with College for America and other organizations that promote youth employment and opportunity. College for America provides online courses that allow Corpsmembers to pursue and earn an Associate’s degree enabling those students to pursue a greater number of careers and pathways to success. In addition, TCN is working with Corps by piloting Core Skills Mastery, an online adaptive-learning platform that is used to help teach Corpsmembers about problem solving as well as develop the skills that many employers seek.

Please support The Corps Network and help us give Corpsmembers the opportunity to have access to quality education and career success through our education initiatives. 

Channel Your Inner Santa and give to The Corps Network.
Thank you!

The Corps Network

Boiler Plate: 
As participants in the Crowdrise Holiday Challenge, The Corps Network greatly appreciates your donation to support our work cultivating the “Next Greatest Generation” of Americans. Each week, we will highlight some of our 2013 accomplishments. This week we will focus on our education initiatives.

[Video] Civicorps Corpsmember Stars in PBS Documentary, Leaves it Behind as Legacy

An Important Note from Civicorps Executive Director Alan Lessik:  Sharon was due to graduate Civicorps in December with plans to attend college, when Civicorps found out that she died from a heart attack on October 16, 2013. The video is a testament to the perseverance that corpsmembers all over the country feel as they work hard to turn their lives around and to overcome the barriers that they face. Sharon’s final words in the movie talked about her future and how “I really want to make it.”

In the video, Sharon reflected on her past, her gang involvement as well as her family and  discovering Civicorps as the path to a new and different future. It describes her academic and work life at Civicorps and in some footage from in one of the East Bay Regional Parks, she talks about learning new skills and appreciation for the outdoors as part of a crew.

In our community meeting today, we honored Sharon and viewed the film together. All of Civicorps mourns her death  and the greatest honor we can give to Sharon is to bring her words into our hearts and our actions. As one corpsmember said, “She was my age, trying to get to a higher place. So, I’m going to graduate for her. I’m going to go to college for her.”

Twenty-one year old Sharon Montano grew up in east Oakland, California in a neighborhood known as the “Dirty Thirties.” She did fine in grammar school but when she hit middle school she began drinking, smoking, and popping pills with friends whom she’d later lose. In her East Oakland neighborhood, violence was part of her daily life.

Going back to school turned out to be more difficult than she thought. Over the years, she started and dropped out of several remedial programs; then later became ineligible for others because of her age.

When she discovers Oakland’s Civicorps, where she meets other young people who have gone through similar rough situations, she finally gets another shot at a high school diploma — and a future. Sharon has gone from being a bad influence to a role model, and really wants to make it.

Directed by Raymond Telles

More Information on the ITVS website

Boiler Plate: 
Sharon was due to graduate Civicorps in December with plans to attend college, when Civicorps found out that she died from a heart attack on October 16, 2013. The video is a testament to the perseverance that corpsmembers all over the country feel as they work hard to turn their lives around and to overcome the barriers that they face. Sharon’s final words in the movie talked about her future and how “I really want to make it.”

International Students Benefit by Growing Food with Vermont Youth Conservation Corps [w/ Video]

From Vermont Youth Conservation Corps

Ali Al Jarah glides around the VYCC commercial kitchen like a seasoned chef.  He balances cooking pots and trays being wrapped for overnight storage.  It is like Ali has done this before, but this is new.  Very new.  Ali, a 16 year-old resident of Winooski, moved with his family from Iraq only seven months ago.  He wants to improve his English. “I am working to speak more English, but it is hard.” Ali is not one to give up, that much is clear.

At Winooski High School, over 30 different languages are spoken, and Ali has found a community there.  He’s also joined the VYCC community - Ali is participating in VYCC’s new after school internship for Winooski students.  Friday marked the halfway point in this six-week program, which is funded by the VYCC Annual Fund as well as a Community Based Learning grant from the Partnership for Change Education Reform Initiative.

Each afternoon, after donning VYCC uniforms in the VYCC schoolhouse, Ali and 27 peers eagerly meet outside for a stretch circle or cooperative game and a short group meeting to discuss the goals of the day.  So far, students have planted over 11,000 onions, and kale and cabbage in the fields behind the West Monitor Barn.  In the greenhouse, they have potted celery, peppers, celeriac and tomatoes.  Students also receive tutorial help as needed.

Food is a way to engage students in community-oriented activities and helps them learn more about each other.  This past Friday, students prepared food for a special evening presentation by leaders in the Conservation and Farm programs. In addition to sharing traditional dishes, students gain valuable skills such as communication, teamwork, leadership, and personal responsibility.

Farm Apprentice Caelyn Keenan observes, “Students who didn't speak to each other a few weeks ago are now comfortable in each other's company. We may not always have profound conversations, but the ease they have with one another is remarkable. I think hard work and food have a lot to do with this 'coming together.’”

They are also engaged in the issue of food security in our communities.  On June 7, students will plan and host the Friday Night Food Affair, a free community meal for residents of Richmond and surrounding towns.  To deepen their learning and make a positive impact in their hometown, the students will plan and host their own fall harvest community dinner in Winooski in September.

City Year Hosts Annual Summit

This week City Year is hosting its annual summit in Washington, D.C. Some of their distinguished guests, performers, and speaker have included U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools Alberto M. Carvalho, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service Wendy Spencer, and also Nicholas David Mrozinski, a musician who was a finalist on "The Voice." (See photos here.)

As part of the summit, City Year has unveiled an excellent new video about the program and its emphasis on helping students and schools succeed nationwide. Watch it below.


What is the Common Core Initiative?


This week, members of The Corps Network staff attended an AEI (American Enterprise Institute) research conference on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The Common Core is an education initiative to align K-12 curricula across the country. The goal is that every student will receive a meaningful high school diploma that guarantees they have a certain level of ability that would be expected in college or desirable to an employer (see below for more information on what the Common Core State Standards entail).

So far, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the initiative. With the new Standards, states will be required to administer new assessments to measure student achievement. Though a test has not been created, the first formal assessment is expected to happen as soon as the 2014 – 2015 school year. This compressed timeline leaves many educators questioning whether the Standards will be effectively implemented and how successful CCSS will be. 

Panelists at the AEI event came to the conclusion that implementing the initiative will face a number of challenges as it interacts with existing school policies and other education reform initiatives. Issues and concerns the panelists discussed included: 

  • How will charter schools react to the Initiative? Charter schools are somewhat based on the idea that standardized schooling is flawed. Will charters reject the Common Core Standards out of fear that it would restrict their freedom to choose their own curriculum and teaching methods? Or, since all states and districts will be more closely aligned under the Common Core, will charter schools embrace the standards as a way to prove their methods are more effective than those used in mainstream schools?
  • The Common Core requires teaching a certain level of computer skills (keyboard use, etc.), and it seems likely that new state assessments will be administered on computers. How will this affect the already large “technology gap” between poor schools and wealthy schools?
  • Though implementation of the Standards is still just beginning, schools will begin formally testing students to see if their achievement levels have changed. How will we know if these assessments are really measuring student achievement in ways similar to how states measured achievement in the past? How soon will schools start looking at test results when making high stakes decisions about teacher hiring and firing?
  • Are teaching schools keeping up with the changes? Are teacher training methods reflective of the Common Core State Standards?
  • How will teachers respond to the Standards? Will they need to change any of their teaching methods? How will they react to working closely with other teachers?
  • CCSS places an emphasis on making sure students are exposed to increasingly difficult texts throughout their educational career. The Standards also require that students learn how to really interact with a text and analyze it, rather than just write about how the text makes them feel. Are students at a level where they are capable of handling this transition? 

What is the Common Core State Standards Initiative?

It is an education initiative that follows the idea that all students across the country should have a common core of knowledge that prepares them for higher education or the workforce. A high school diploma from any school, city, or state should guarantee that the recipient is literate and can compete in the job market. Historically, states have had vastly different standards for what a competent student should be able to do and understand; CCSS seeks to bring these standards into alignment.

There are currently Standards for math and English language arts (Standards for science and social studies do not exist yet). They were released in June 2010 and most states adopted them within a few months. States that adopted the Standards or a similar college and career readiness curriculum were eligible for federal Race to the Top Grants. All states that adopted the initiative plan to have 85 percent of their curricula on the Standards by 2015.

The CCSS initiative is more about prescribing what a student should be able to do rather than saying students should know specific facts or texts. For example, there are no reading lists to accompany the reading standards; rather, students are simply expected to read a wide range of classic and contemporary work that challenges their ideas and perspectives. 


How Operation Fresh Start Helps Serve High School Dropouts and Closes the Achievement Gap

Editor's Note: The Cap Times recently interviewed Gregory Markle, Executive Director of Operation Fresh Start. We have republished part of this great Q&A below.

Q&A: Greg Markle helps dropouts get a Fresh Start

Operation Fresh Start, a program located in a building at 1925 Winnebago St. on the east side, was founded in 1970 to help high school dropouts gain education and job skills.

Today, the program has 130 students between the ages of 16-24, as well as a waiting list of about 150. The students in the program split their time between the classroom, where most study with the goal of obtaining a high school equivalency diploma, and a job site, where they work to build low-income housing or on conservation projects through AmeriCorps.

This school year, for the first time, the Madison School District has partnered with the organization to allow certain students in the program to receive full high school diplomas, rather than equivalency diplomas. The former often looks better on a job resume.

Markle, a former alder (shown right), recently organized a forum for Madison School Board candidates to talk to Fresh Start students, who he says represent the faces of the achievement gap. More than anything, he wants the community to understand why it's important that we don't give up on dropouts.

The Capital Times: How is Operation Fresh Start relevant to the discussion of the achievement gap?

Greg Markle: We directly take people who have dropped out or are on the verge of dropping out of high school and turn them into graduates. The impact is measurable, direct and probably the most efficient use of funds to address the achievement gap available.

What are less efficient ways?

Well, I think less measurable. If you're working on cultural competency among kindergarten teachers, for instance. Long-term that might have an effect, hopefully it does, but you're not going to see that direct impact the way that Operation Fresh Start can have that direct impact in the community right now.

How do people get into the program?

They have to demonstrate three things to us: That they want to change where they are educationally; they have to change something about themselves personally — whether it's how they deal with authority, how they time manage, (alcohol or drug) issues, anger management issues. Then they have to come in with an idea of a career goal, that they are with us because they want a career with which they can sustain themselves going forward.

What are the job skills they learn at Fresh Start?

They learn how to act on a job. They learn the importance of showing up on time, how to ask questions of the supervisor, working in a team setting, dressing appropriately for the work done, as well as addressing hardships in a job. When you're trying to smooth mud on drywall, you have to work on how to address difficulties on a job.

They also achieve success and know for the first time what it feels like to have done a job well and to see their accomplishments.

The young people we work with never received the training in those skills and it really makes it difficult for them to succeed in the work world. Employers oftentimes expect people to come with those basic skills, so there's a disconnect.

Continue Reading at The Cap Times



California Conservation Corps Partners with Cuyamaca College for Green Job Training

From Scoop San Diego

Well known as a leader in all things green, from its sustainable landscaping and energy-efficient buildings to its green-career training programs, Cuyamaca College’s latest venture has youthful members of the California Conservation Corps excited about green jobs.

A pilot program put together by the college’s Continuing Education and Workforce Training Division recently linked the CCC’s San Diego center with San Diego Gas & Electric Co., providing 24 corps members 116 hours of introductory experience and training in a variety of job fields in the sustainability sector: green building retrofitting and performance, energy auditing, home-energy rating and solar photovoltaic installation.

Providing the training were local business owners in the solar panel industry, a construction company safety director, and faculty from Cuyamaca College’s Environmental Health and Safety Technology program.

Financially backed by the state chancellor’s office along with SDG&E, the training program proved so successful, with nearly 100 percent completion, that a new CCC class is being scheduled this spring.

College president Mark J. Zacovic said the program is an example of the college’s progressive philosophy of preparing today’s workforce for tomorrow’s jobs.

“We’re ecstatic over the success of this pilot program, and we’re delighted to continue to offer this class with Workforce Innovations Partnership grant funds from the state,” he said.

Molly Hughes, program manager for the college’s Workforce Innovations Partnership, also known as the Green Ventures Project, praised corps members for sticking with the pilot program through completion.

“The corps members worked their regular jobs helping protect our environment, then came to the college all day Fridays and Saturdays on their own time for three months to learn about sustainability,” she said.

Continue Reading at Scoop San Diego