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Project FIRST: An AmeriCorps Case Study

2019 is the 25th Anniversary of the #AmeriCorps program, our nation’s signature civilian service program, and support for #nationalservice is seeing a rebirth. In fact, Rep. Seth Moulton has filed a piece of legislation - ACTION for National Service Act - that would incrementally expand the number of full-time federal service positions under AmeriCorps to one million over the next decade. Moulton introduced the legislation alongside Reps. John B. Larson of Connecticut, Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts, Donna Shalala of Florida and Katie Hill of California. The bill now has over 185 original co-sponsors.

In the spirit of #AmeriCorps25, #NationalService25, #NationalServiceWorks and #ThrowbackThursday, I thought I'd share my AmeriCorps case study.

Thirty years ago, computers were not fully integrated into public schools. Technological resources and knowledge were lacking. In 1994, North Carolina announced that students entering the 8th grade in 1996 would need to pass a new computer competency test to graduate. In response, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Education Foundation applied for an AmeriCorps grant in partnership with IBM and the Public Education Fund Network.

Project FIRST (Fostering Instructional Reform through Service and Technology): An AmeriCorps Initiative won the grant, one of the first 58 AmeriCorps grants ever awarded.

Charlotte’s Project FIRST program placed AmeriCorps Members and retired technology experts from IBM as technology coordinators in nonmagnet middle schools. Ours was the only AmeriCorps program to focus on technology in education, and Charlotte was the only city to focus exclusively on middle schools.

After writing the Charlotte grant, I led the project – including all programming, supervision of 10 Members, and internal and external communications around the project. Our Members relocated to Charlotte from across the East Coast, including Connecticut, New York and Illinois. They worked with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to develop long-range plans to integrate technology, to set up computer labs, to establish technology-related policies and procedures, and to train.

Our AmeriCorps Members created sustainable technology programs, including computer labs in eight schools, which resulted in thousands of students learning computer skills and actively utilizing those resources in their middle school educations. 100% of the Members stayed with the program with no turnover (unheard of at the time). Project FIRST received extensive media coverage, and the school superintendent listed the program as one of his proudest accomplishments when he left the system in 1996. Some additional key accomplishments in our first year included:

  • More than 1,100 hours of staff development to almost 600 middle school teachers, media specialists, administrators and other school personnel.

  • Acquisition, refurbishment and maintenance of more than 1,200 pieces of technology.

  • Student access to computers increased an average of 50%.

  • Project FIRST reached approximately 200 parents through Family Nights; Kids, Education and Technology open houses; PTA meetings; etc.

  • 100% of the AmeriCorps Members indicated an interest in continuing to improve education in their communities.

Project FIRST continued for two additional years, bringing much needed equipment, training and expertise into our schools. Our AmeriCorps Members, many of whom continued with the program beyond that first year, have gone on to successful careers across the United States. This project is one of hundreds that proves #NationalServiceWorks.


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