Today marks the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, the national service program that has helped 900,000 Americans give a year of their lives in service to this country. Hundreds of thousands have served in our schools as teachers, tutors, and classroom assistants. In fact, AmeriCorps volunteers are hard at work in 11,700 schools across the country right now. AmeriCorps volunteers have strengthened our nation in so many ways, believing that those who love their country can change it. They have helped communities rebuild after natural disasters, from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to the tornado in Joplin, Mo. They have made our parks cleaner and more accessible. And they have increased access to healthy foods for people living in poverty. I’m heartened that much of AmeriCorps’s impact can be felt in our schools.
We know that giving kids the education they deserve takes entire communities working together, and AmeriCorps has connected people looking to make a difference in public education in strategic and meaningful ways. During my time as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools and in my visits to schools across the country as Education Secretary, I have seen how AmeriCorps volunteers serving with Teach for America, City Year, Public Allies, and other organizations have helped to educate and support our nation’s children. And I have seen how they inspire even more individuals to take up the mantle of service – 4 million Americans volunteered alongside AmeriCorps members in 2013 alone.
We don’t just think national service programs can benefit kids. We know. I’ll share one example: 39 percent of the 6th – 9th graders working with City Year volunteers improved an entire grade level in their English and Language Arts courses during the 2012-2013 school year. Students with City Year volunteers spent an aggregate of 14,600 more hours in the classroom thanks to the volunteers’ attendance improvement efforts.
We know there is potential for national service to do even more for our kids. That’s why last year I announced a new partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service – School Turnaround AmeriCorps. Through this innovative program, 650 young people have been given the opportunity to serve in the nation’s lowest-performing schools. I visited one of these schools in Washington D.C., Stanton Elementary. What I saw was inspiring: 18 young City Year corps members working alongside teachers to ensure that kids receive the education they deserve. Corps members motivate kids in the morning, tutor them throughout the day and afterschool, and act as great role models.
What’s perhaps even more heartening is that there are eight AmeriCorps alums on staff at Stanton Elementary today; their service experience inspired them to continue helping kids. Across the country, 60 percent of AmeriCorps volunteers go on to work in nonprofits and public service. Kids need talented, dedicated, and passionate educators in the classroom, and AmeriCorps is helping to recruit this next generation of education leaders.
While I missed out on AmeriCorps by a few years, I took a year off of college to work in my mother’s afterschool tutoring program in the south side of Chicago. That year transformed my life. It’s a big reason why I do the work I do today.
On the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, I want to thank the leaders in Washington who crossed party lines to launch this national service program, along with the tireless advocates who help the program continue to grow and thrive. But, most importantly, I appreciate the people who serve and volunteer. You demonstrate what is possible when we commit to furthering our nation’s highest ideals. You are solving our biggest challenges, strengthening communities, and increasing opportunity for our children. Our nation’s future is brighter because you serve. Thank you.
Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.