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Grinnell Education Partnership recognized with third consecutive National Pacesetter Award; five AmeriCorps members begin service for 2020–21

Grinnell Education Partnership recognized for supporting early school success

GRINNELL, Iowa — The national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR) recognized the Grinnell Education Partnership with Pacesetter Community Honors for its work in 2019 to support early school success and improve school attendance.

The Grinnell Education Partnership is a communitywide initiative that brings together nonprofits, area employers, the Grinnell-Newburg School District and community volunteers. Supported by a team of AmeriCorps members working with local organizations across the community, the partnership is helping ensure that children in Grinnell get a strong start and a strong finish to their school experience. The national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading focuses on promoting early school success as an important building block of more hopeful futures for children in economically challenged families and communities.

“We applaud the civic leaders and local funders whose time, talent, energy and imagination have fueled progress in these Pacesetter communities,” says Ralph Smith, managing director of the national campaign. “Mobilized communities — like these Pacesetters — support our big bet on the problem-solving potential of proximity.”

The Grinnell Education Partnership was recognized for outstanding alignment between the private, public and social sectors to achieve measurable progress in literacy achievement in the short term and position the community for sustained progress in the future. “These national recognitions for Grinnell’s work are extraordinary,” says Melissa Strovers, director of collective impact in Grinnell College’s Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement. “The partnership is rolling into its sixth year of active programming with the support of AmeriCorps members, so to be consistently recognized at the national level with this award is very reflective of Grinnell’s can-do community spirit and commitment to supporting early education literacy success and improving school attendance.”

Grinnell College serves as AmeriCorps VISTA host site

Grinnell College will continue to support the partnership with AmeriCorps members who help community organizations work together on these initiatives, providing a strong sense of campus community connection. Grinnell College serves as the host site for the AmeriCorps VISTA members who are placed in Grinnell through partnering agencies Volunteer Iowa and Campus Compact.  

“AmeriCorps VISTA has allowed dozens of organizations across Iowa to leverage service as a strategy to meet critical community needs,” says Julie Struck, Volunteer Iowa program officer, VISTA and Disaster. “AmeriCorps VISTA provides an opportunity for anyone over the age of 18 to give back in a meaningful way to their community, learn new skills and earn money for college.”

“We are thrilled to continue this important work in the Grinnell community,” says Emily Shields, executive director, Iowa and Minnesota Campus Compact. “Campus-community partnerships are vital to education and national service contributes much-needed capacity to their success.”

This year, the Grinnell Education Partnership welcomes five AmeriCorps VISTA members who will be serving full time through August 2021. Grace Morrison, Jill Harris and Saiham Sharif started their service on Aug. 3, while Riah Coley and Ziggy Thétard started on Aug. 31. 

  • Riah Coley is serving as Grinnell Education Partnership planner. Coley has a background in education as a classroom teacher and curriculum planner for a variety of ages and as a program coordinator in higher education. She is passionate about equal access and social justice. This new role will focus on developing policies and procedures for the partnership overall and identifying growth areas to create sustainable programs to help Grinnell area children. 
  • Jill Harris is serving as the Skills Gap Task Force coordinator. A retired Grinnell-Newburg teacher, Harris served in a similar role as an AmeriCorps member last year, moving to working remotely during the pandemic but continuing to collaborate with another AmeriCorps member to create the Raising a Reader program, which encourages parent(s) to begin reading with their newborn infant. Her goal as a VISTA member is to provide soft skill development support for Grinnell youth from cradle to career, with an emphasis on early childhood activities and opportunities.
  • Grace Morrison is serving as School Readiness Task Force coordinator. In March 2020, Morrison lost her position as a Peace Corps youth development volunteer in Costa Rica due to the pandemic and says this VISTA position will help fulfill her personal commitment to volunteer service. She wants to focus on strengthening support networks for Grinnell children so they feel more confident and prepared for school.
  • Saiham Sharif is serving as Family Engagement coordinator. Previously, Sharif served as an AmeriCorps member in the SLICK summer camp program at Grinnell’s Davis Elementary, working with second-grade children to maintain and improve their literacy skills. In his current position, he will build on the past initiatives with local organizations, partnering more actively with families. He is a 2020 graduate of Grinnell College with a major in English.
  • Ziggy Thétard is serving as the Healthy Readers Task Force coordinator. A 2020 Grinnell College graduate who majored in history and gender, women’s and sexuality studies, Thétard will focus on ensuring that students have mental and physical health resources available to them, especially in tackling online schooling and COVID-19 realities.


About the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading 
Launched in 2010, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort of funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities across the nation to ensure that more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship. Since its launch, the campaign has grown to include more than 300 communities, representing 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and two provinces in Canada — with more than 5,000 local organizations and 510 state and local funders (including 200-plus United Ways). To learn more, visit and follow the movement on Twitter @readingby3rd.

About the Grinnell Education Partnership

Since the 2015–16 school year, the Grinnell Education Partnership has engaged more than 160 AmeriCorps members, more than 20 local organizations and more than 300 volunteers who have contributed over 1,000 hours of volunteer time. In addition, the partnership has piloted or enhanced more than 20 community-based programs and generated nearly $70,000 in grant funding and private donations to support community-based learning activities.

About Grinnell College
Grinnell College, a private liberal arts college in Iowa founded in 1846, provides individually advised learning for intellectually engaged students to produce graduates who are prepared to navigate the world’s complexities and responsibly contribute to the common good. Grinnell enrolls 1,700 students from around the world, who earn bachelor’s degrees in a range of disciplines across the humanities, arts and sciences. Grinnell’s rigorous academic program and campus life emphasize excellence in education through free inquiry and the open exchange of ideas, a diverse community and social responsibility and action. More information about Grinnell College is available at

About Iowa and Minnesota Campus Compact
Iowa and Minnesota Campus Compact strengthens the capacity of colleges and universities to fulfill the public purposes of higher education through its network of 59 campuses. This includes educating students through community and civic learning experiences and making an impact in communities through reciprocal partnerships that address community-identified goals. The compact creates partnership opportunities, supports quality programming through professional development and promotes the importance of the civic mission.

About Volunteer Iowa 
Volunteer Iowa and its partner agencies work with organizations and individuals on three main fronts: 1) helping agencies develop quality programs that use service as a strategy to fulfill their missions and address Iowa’s greatest areas of need, 2) engaging Iowans in their communities by promoting service and 3) expanding the volunteer base and connecting people with appropriate service opportunities by building the volunteer infrastructure. More information is available at

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