AmeriCorps VISTA

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What is VISTA?

VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a federal anti-poverty program administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service. VISTA provides full-time volunteers (VISTAs) to support projects at nonprofit, grassroots organizations, and local government agencies like the Ionia County Intermediate School District.

VISTAs strengthen and support these organizations by expanding community partnerships, securing long-term resources, training program participants, and developing other activities that help build long-term sustainability for overcoming poverty. Any nonprofit organization, educational institution, or state or local government agency is eligible to sponsor a VISTA project.

VISTAs are men and women ages 18 and older who commit a year of full-time service to help local communities develop lasting solutions to poverty in America. The skill sets and education level of VISTAs are as diverse as the communities they serve. Many VISTAs have college degrees or at least several years of work experience. Still others are recently retired professionals looking for a way to spend their retirement years benefiting a low-income community. In addition to their existing skills, VISTAs receive training in community mobilization, asset identification, fundraising, capacity building, and program sustainability.

The primary role of VISTAs is to help build a sustainable program. Hence, VISTAs do not perform direct service. Instead of tutoring youth, for example, VISTAs may help create or expand a tutoring program by recruiting community volunteers to tutor or by obtaining funding for the program.

What is the Ionia County Intermediate School District VISTA Program?

VISTA members here are asked to create and expand programs in the area of youth development helping to increase the presence of resiliency factors in students resulting in greater asset development, less risky behaviors and more success, therefore, meeting the following goals:

  • Provide students with comprehensive, multifaceted, and integrated supports that are accessible, timely, and strength-based so students can achieve in school, be confident and caring, and become contributing citizens in their communities;
  • Involve families, fellow students, educators and community members as integral partners in the provision of a supportive, respectful learning environment; and
  • Integrate the human and financial resources of public and private agencies to create caring communities at each school.

The VISTA members will be utilized to create and expand youth development programs in Ionia and Montcalm counties including work in K-12 schools, college access and family involvement.

The Ionia County Intermediate School District’s Mission Statement states that the organization will “cooperate and provide services and leadership as a partner with its local districts, public and private agencies, other ISDs, the Department of Education, and higher education, to deliver quality teaching and learning to students and staff.” The Vista program provides an opportunity to support this mission by its collaboration with the local school districts and other community entities with a focus on teaching, mentoring, and the provision of education-related services for children and their families.

Content Coaching

Content coaching involves two people: the classroom teacher and the coach. Coaches work one-on-one and in small groups with teachers, providing guidance, training, and other resources as needed. Together, they focus on strategies for engaging students and improving their learning. Coaches also are often responsible for providing or arranging professional development activities for all teachers in a school or district.

Content coaching reflects what constitutes high-quality professional development for teachers. It is job-embedded and addresses issues teachers face daily in their classrooms. It is ongoing, not a one-shot workshop. It is aligned to state standards, curriculum, and assessment. And its goal is twofold: improved instructional practice and improved student learning.

The key to a successful coaching program is a trusting relationship between teachers and coaches, but training and support from administrators are vital as well. Coaching is confidential, non-evaluative, and supportive.

IM Kids 3rd Meal

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IM Kids 3rd Meal is committed to ending childhood hunger in Ionia and Montcalm counties.

  • In Ionia County 1 in 5 children are food insecure and in Montcalm County 1 in 4 are food insecure.
  • Lack of enough healthy food can impair a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school.
  • Hungry children struggle to stay on track with other students in school because they are more likely to experience headaches, stomachaches, colds, ear infections and fatigue.

IM Kids 3rd Meal Plan of Action

  • The 3rd Meals are prepared by volunteers at the H.O. Steele Education Center, delivered to schools in the afternoon and then distributed to the students before they are dismissed for the day.
  • Each 3rd Meal is a well-balanced, ready-to-eat evening meal.
  • Students receive a 3rd Meal each school day.


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MICAN supports a post-secondary educated citizenry through life long education and learning, creating a prepared and empowered workforce leading to a robust economy and an improved quality of life.

Of the 83 counties in Michigan, Ionia and Montcalm Counties are 77 and 71 respectively in terms of producing students who go to college. As a result of this discouraging statistic and some insightful planning from the community, the Ionia and Montcalm Intermediate School Districts are hoping to change that. The two ISDs in conjunction with several community partners have been awarded a Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) matching grant for $50,000 to create the Montcalm Ionia College Access Network (MICAN).

MICAN’s goals include increasing both post-secondary enrollment and degree attainment, assisting residents with FAFSA forms, and training counselors in the new state web-based portal. To meet these goals, the funds will be used to assist students in Ionia and Montcalm counties explore college options, apply for schooling, and seek financing for post-secondary instruction. To that end, the grant money will be used to increase awareness through college visits, mentoring and informational events. A mobile unit will be purchased and outfitted to travel around the two counties providing services.

Professional Learning Community

Big Idea #1: Ensuring That Students Learn

The very essence of a learning community is a focus on and a commitment to the learning of each student. Educators engage with colleagues in an ongoing exploration of three critical questions that drive the work of those within the Professional Learning Community (PLC).

  • What do we want each student to learn?
  • How will we know when each student has learned it?
  • How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?

Big Idea #2: A Culture of Collaboration

Educators who are building a professional learning community recognize that they must work together to achieve their collective purpose of learning for all. Therefore, they create structures to promote a collaborative culture. The teams in a PLC engage in collective inquiry into both best practices in teaching and best practices in learning. They also inquire about their current reality including their present practices and the levels of achievement of their students. They attempt to arrive at consensus on vital questions by building shared knowledge rather than pooling opinions. They have an acute sense of curiosity and openness to new possibilities.

Big Idea #3: A Focus on Results

Professional learning communities judge their effectiveness on the basis of results. Working together to improve student achievement becomes the routine work of everyone in the PLC. Every teacher team participates in an ongoing process of identifying the current level of student achievement, establishing a goal to improve the current level, working together to achieve that goal, and providing periodic evidence of progress.

The Box

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Developed by educators, for educators, the box provides everything you need to train and support educators in service learning. The step-by-step kit is organized in nine modules than can be delivered in ½-hour, 1-hour, or 2-hour sessions, based on the professional development time available.

Each module includes PowerPoint presentations, engaging and interactive training activities, and scores of ideas that educators can use right away in their own classrooms. Ideas are shared for creating service learning projects in areas like health, public safety, the environment, and more. Materials and activities are adaptable for all age levels, community needs, or academic curricula and can be used by a group of students, a classroom, or an entire school.

Youth Advisory Council

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The Ionia County YAC is represented by high school students from Ionia, Belding, Portland, Lakewood, Saranac, and Lowell High Schools. These motivated students meet on a once-per-month basis to plan, develop, and implement service-learning projects. Students also go through professional development trainings that help them further develop their own projects. Students go though leadership, goal-setting, public speaking, team-work, and cultural trainings that help them learn how to be effective at advocating for a positive change in their community.

The most impressive quality about this group of students and the Ionia County YAC is that this program is entirely youth lead! Students create the agenda for each meeting, lead each meeting, and take each step from developing to executing their project. These students also host fundraisers for their projects. The YAC has also elected to meet year-round. Students meet throughout the summer to further develop their projects, attend community events, and to plan for the following school year.


Projects Managed by Ionia County YAC: