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The Many Similarities of AmeriCorps and Study Abroad

October 20, 2014

Barnhart.ErinToday’s guest blog comes from Erin Barnhart, Ph.D. (AmeriCorps NCCC Central Region alum, 1997-1998) who currently serves as the Graduate Program Director for IPSL, an international education and service-learning organization. This blog is the fifth in our International Careers Series sponsored by IPSL that profiles leading alumni of AmeriCorps working in international and intercultural careers.

It may not seem obvious, but there are actually quite a few similarities between AmeriCorps service and international education. I’m an AmeriCorps alum (NCCC Central Region, 1997-1998) who now works in the field of international education and service as Graduate Program Director for IPSL, an international service-learning organization. As I’ve interacted with and taught graduate students who are AmeriCorps and other national service alumni, I’ve increasingly recognized that there are many outcomes, impacts, and goals that domestic service and international learning have in common.

Let’s explore some of them, shall we?

IPSL/Concordia University MA-IDS students Ashley and Sarah serving in Thailand

IPSL/Concordia University MA-IDS students Ashley and Sarah serving in Thailand

First, for many AmeriCorps Alums, service with AmeriCorps presents a unique opportunity to learn about diverse, often multicultural communities – places where people have different lived experiences, practice different cultural norms, and often even speak different languages from their own. My service in AmeriCorps NCCC allowed me to partner with and learn from individuals and communities around the United States, the lives of whom, in many cases, were dramatically different from my own. As a young woman from rural Oregon, serving with community organizations and engaged citizens in inner-city Detroit, rural Texas, and small town North Dakota was a fascinating, illuminating experience. I came away from my 10 months of service with a much more nuanced appreciation for the strengths and abilities of communities. And my eye-opening acknowledgement of the sheer diversity of opinions, experiences, and ways of life in my country meant that many things were, for me, no longer black and white but rather many shades of technicolor gray.

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What AmeriCorps Taught Me: Finding Yourself Vs. Creating Yourself

October 13, 2014

HeadshotToday’s guest blog comes from Eli N. Goldman, a four-time AmeriCorps veteran of Bonner Community Scholars at  The College of New Jersey, City Year, and a two-term VISTA. Eli is now working towards his master’s of public administration at Rutgers – Newark while looking for a career that aligns with his passion for creating a social impact. Follow along with him on Twitter (@EliNGoldman)  and LinkedIn.

I believe that people working for the common good is what made this nation strong. That is why I joined AmeriCorps and served 4 years for a total of 5 assignments in three states on both coasts of the U.S. I wanted to do my part to help my country. However, I also was looking for something. I wanted to find myself.

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Bringing The Opportunity Equation Conversation to Atlanta!

October 9, 2014
AmeriCorps members from Youth Villages mingling with other alums, and Eric Schwarz

AmeriCorps members from Youth Villages mingling with other alums, and Eric Schwarz

AmeriCorps Alums hosted Eric Schwarz, the Co-Founder and former CEO of Citizen Schools, in Atlanta for a conversation on closing the achievement gap in our schools and the role citizens play in achieving that goal as part of The Opportunity Equation book tour. Before reading from his book, Eric spent time signing books and meeting with current Corps members and alums and community leaders.

Eric shared how we live in a time of greater educational innovation, but also of greater inequality. The achievement gap between students from lower-income families and those from higher-income families has doubled in recent years. What’s the key to closing this gap?

AmeriCorps Alums staff with Eric Schwarz. From left to right: Greg Heinrich, Eric Schwarz, Maria Caruso, and Ben Duda.

AmeriCorps Alums staff with Eric Schwarz. From left to right: Greg Heinrich, Eric Schwarz, Maria Caruso, and Ben Duda.

In The Opportunity Equation, Eric suggests that this achievement gap is caused not by the opportunities during the school day, but by the lack of  learning opportunities after and beyond the school day. What higher-income families can access to a greater degree than lower-income families is what Eric calls our country’s “shadow education” system. It’s access to internships, summer camps, after school programs, arts enrichment, and more. It’s also the chance to engage with a network of tutors, mentors, and experts in their field.

“America’s greatest asset is its citizen power”- Eric Schwarz, in interview on NPR affiliate WGBH

booktalk_CSIf we put kids in front of enough opportunities through expanded learning time and apprenticeships with experts in their fields, Eric believes each child will find their momentum and discover their talents. How do we help start that momentum? With citizens, Eric says, and with millions more AmeriCorps members and citizen volunteers. To learn more about the power of citizenship, Citizen Schools, and The Opportunity Equation, watch our webinar with Eric (& AmeriCorps alum Jessica Graham from Cisco Community Relations) on-demand here and see more pictures from last night’s event on our Facebook page!

Faced with a Wicked Social Problem? Speed Up Your Learning Cycle

October 6, 2014

Gale.MichaelToday’s guest blog comes from Michael Gale (AmeriCorps Member with Heads Up, 2003-2004) who currently serves as the Senior Program Manager at GlobalGiving. This blog is the fourth in our International Careers Series sponsored by IPSL that profiles leading alumni of AmeriCorps working in international and intercultural careers.

My AmeriCorps service ended over a decade ago, but sometimes I feel like I’m back in my classroom of 4th graders at Birney Elementary in Southeast Washington. Anyone who has ever taught can tell you that educating requires flexibility, quick thinking, and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. Really, these are attributes that would serve you well in any field, but too often, they are missing in the field of international development.

Students from Michael's AmeriCorps class

Students from Michael’s AmeriCorps class

International development nonprofits, at their best, are learning organizations. We raise money, carry out programming, evaluate how we did, hopefully make some decision on how to do a little (or a lot) better next time, and we start the cycle over again. The problem is, this cycle – from program design to program evaluation – usually takes at least a year, and in many cases much longer. Nonprofits are tackling wicked problems, problems that are particularly difficult or impossible to address because of their complex origins and range of factors producing them. These problems include entrenched poverty, structural inequality, and environmental destruction. We are hesitant to promise, especially to funders, that we’ll be able to make progress quickly on such challenges. So we promise an evaluation after three years, or we offer surface level report-backs on successful aspects of our work. This wouldn’t cut it in the classroom.  In many ways, the education of a child is the wickedest of problems, yet good teachers still find ways to test new approaches, analyze the results, and adjust their lesson plans and teaching styles to continually search for the best way to reach the diverse learning needs of the kids in their classes.

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Can You Fight Poverty Starting with a Soccer Ball and a School?

October 1, 2014
Ryan Sarafolean

Ryan Sarafolean

When you think about tools for fighting poverty, a soccer ball may not be the first one to come to mind. Yet, AmeriCorps alum Ryan Sarafolean’s innovative nonprofit, KGSA Foundation, uses soccer as one of the many ways to reduce poverty and gender inequalities in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. The core of the Foundation’s work is to build and harness the unique strength of women to lead their communities out of poverty.

In 2012, Ryan received an AmeriCorps Alums Segal Entrepreneurship Award for founding KGSA, and Kibera Girls Soccer Academy is its pilot program. The Foundation works closely with local leaders in Kibera to provide artistic and athletic opportunities and microfinance opportunities to over 120 girls and families every year. KGSA’s next challenge is to construct a 4-story boarding and community centre that will provide both safe and secure housing and a host of academic and health support services. To support this effort, Abdul Kassim, the Founder and Executive Director of the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy is travelling to the U.S. to speak about the importance of educating girls in extreme poverty.

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From Friendship Bracelets to Traditional Ghanaian Meals in the Classroom

September 30, 2014

Hoffman.LeahToday’s guest blog comes from Leah Hoffman an alum of City Year 2010 and 2011, who is currently a first year graduate student in Sustainable International Development at Brandeis University’s The Heller School. This blog is the third in our International Careers Series sponsored by IPSL that profiles leading alumni of AmeriCorps working in international and intercultural careers.

It’s hard to remember a time that I wasn’t passionate about education and the opportunity to work with students in unconventional classrooms. Whether spending my summer making friendship bracelets with countless kids as a camp counselor or facilitating service learning projects for wide-eyed elementary schoolers in an after school program during my time with City Year, I’ve always found my service alongside students to be incredibly powerful. Yet, it was surprising a few years ago to stumble across an application and an opportunity to spend a year as an education fellow for a small international development organization in Accra, Ghana. It was even more surprising to find myself, just six short weeks later, catching a red-eye flight into Kotoka International Airport to embark on a year of teaching West African high schoolers in an international college access program.

Though my classroom looked more unconventional than my experiences before, I found the adventure of teaching abroad to be just as impactful and enriching as my prior experience in the classrooms, and often times even more unpredictable. Through my time applying for international teaching programs to closing out my service abroad, I found some key things to keep in mind along the way, many of which apply to a year of service in AmeriCorps too! Learn how to go abroad and teach, build connections with students, and find your next opportunity after teaching.

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Who’s Been Talking About AmeriCorps Alums? Catch Up on Media from the 20th!

September 26, 2014

Here are 20 of the best news pieces focused on the impact of AmeriCorps, its alums, and why more people should have the opportunity to serve. Find out who was talking about AmeriCorps during its 20th anniversary and share the news to keep the conversation going!

Ben & Mary fun headshot1. “Made In AmeriCorps” by Ben Duda and Mary Bruce appeared in The Huffington Post.

2.  “I Will Get Things Done for America: Celebrating 20 Years of Service,” a report by Voices for National Service.

Read more…


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