Appalachia IU 8: Cost-effective Americorps Service Boosts Academic Achievement

At schools throughout Pennsylvania’s Appalachian region, grades and test scores are up, and special education placements are down. Certified teachers assigned to Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8’s Pennsylvania Mountain Services Corps make a measurable impact on school achievement.  

IU 8 administers Pennsylvania Mountain Service Corps as part of Americorps, the federal community service program. Participants work for one year in exchange for stipends and scholarships. About half of PMSC members work in education, and most are certified teachers or college-educated adults. They serve in about 45 school districts in 16 Pennsylvania counties, at a cost to schools of $9,600 each.

Americorps members work with students referred by teachers for intensive, targeted academic support. With their teaching credentials, “they can really be a peer mentor but also have some expertise behind them,” says PMSC Director Carol Overly. Eighty-five percent of students receiving Americorps tutoring are improving academically, and dropout rates have “significantly decreased.”

Windber Area School District started with three Americorps posts and now has seven in the elementary, middle, and high schools, says Superintendent Rick Huffman. Their impact is seen in rising grades and test scores, plus falling special education placements, probably because borderline students are getting targeted help to stay on track academically, Huffman says.

Windber schools assign Americorps teachers for “on-demand remediation,” he says -- individualized instruction for struggling students, subject-specific tutoring aligned with the classroom curriculum, and daily homework checks and help for students who might not get education encouragement at home.

“Through their dedication and willingness to serve, they’re truly making a difference not only in the classroom but throughout our entire instructional system,” says Huffman.

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