WT AmeriCorps Program, Canyon nonprofit team to encourage reading in Texas Panhandle

By Chip Chandler

Elementary students around the Texas Panhandle will get the gift of reading and learn about the value of service thanks to a partnership between West Texas A&M University’s AmeriCorps program and a Canyon-based nonprofit.

Members of WT’s Rural Resilience and Opportunity on the High Plains AmeriCorps program will visit students in Canyon, Dalhart, Friona and Hereford over the course of a week as a part of the program’s Service Day program. They’ll partner with The Leader Readers Network, founded by former WT staffer Chris McGilvery in 2012 and based in Canyon since 2019.

The network works with teachers to pair older students with younger ones in an effort to foster leadership skills, enable child-centered coaching and encourage a love of reading. Teachers and students also work together on service projects.

Martin Luther King Day has been an official AmeriCorps Service Day since 1994, said Laura Seals, assistant director of R2OHP’s Office of Academic and Regional Collaboration.

“These service days provide opportunities for our AmeriCorps members to engage in meaningful service, gain experience in a new educational setting and become a part of a larger effort to ensure that children in underserved communities have equal access to books and the opportunity to get excited about their learning,” Seals said.

“Leaders Readers Network is a perfect match for our members because both organizations are committed to increasing educational attainment around the Panhandle, as well as to building a more supportive, resilient, inclusive and equitable environment,” Seals continued.

AmeriCorps members delivered books to and read to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students at Lakeview Elementary School in Canyon on Jan. 14. Members also will deliver books to Dalhart Intermediary School on Jan. 19 and Friona Primary School and Hereford West Central Elementary School on Jan. 21.

Each of those communities are currently served by WT’s AmeriCorps program.

Through AmeriCorps, Leaders Readers Network is donating about books to every student at Friona Primary and Dalhart Intermediary, about 300 books in all. The complete MLK Day service project will result in a donation of more than 750 books, including many bilingual books.

Since the launch of the program in October 2020, R2OHP AmeriCorps members have worked in Hereford High School, Tulia High School, Randall High School, Midway High School, Pampa High School, Highland Park High School, Canyon High School and Friona High School. Members also have helped high school students in Perryton, Dimmitt and Canadian, as well as students at Frank Phillips College in Dalhart and Perryton.

R2OHP AmeriCorps continues to seek mentors, recruiting not only WT students, but also those from Amarillo College, Frank Phillips College and Clarendon College, as well as retired teachers, counselors and other members of the community.

Those selected will serve from January through July, often in their own communities. They will receive a monthly living allowance and, at the end of their service, can receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to help pay for educational expenses and qualified student loans.

The two-step application process begins with making a profile at my.americorps.gov and searching for WT’s program.

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