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AmeriCorps to help Lynn cut dropout rate, boost literacy

LYNN — For the next three years, 15 A meriCorps members will work in Lynn’s high schools and at several local nonprofits — serving as everything from mentors to data analysts — to help the school district reduce its dropout rate.

“A major focus is dropout prevention because if kids drop out, then we have failed them,” said the school system’s superintendent, Catherine Latham.

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The $1.25 million effort will be overseen by the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, which was joined by the Massachusetts Service Alliance and the Corporation for National and Community Service in supplying grants to pay for it.

AmeriCorps, which is part of the federal corporation, sends more than 80,000 workers to nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community- and faith-based groups across the United States each year.

Sarah Link, a United Way assistant vice president, cited the need to reduce the dropout rate in Lynn, and to support the district’s English Language Learners program, which focuses on helping immigrant students achieve proficiency.

In Lynn, where 14,100 students attended school last year, the overall dropout rate was 4.1 percent, compared with the statewide rate of 2.5 percent, according to state figures. For immigrant students in Lynn, the dropout rate was 4.6 percent, said Link.

“We’re hoping the AmeriCorps members will provide direct services that students and families need,” she said.

In addition to working at Lynn Classical, Lynn English, and Lynn Tech, the AmeriCorps members will spend time at nonprofits that provide support services to immigrant students and their families.

The organizations include the Lynn YMCA, Family & Children’s Service of Greater Lynn, Boys & Girls Club of Lynn, Gregg House, Girls Inc. of Lynn, New American Center, Catholic Charities, Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, and Operation Bootstrap.

Teaching youngsters to read and write while keeping them in school is especially challenging in Lynn because about 80 percent of the students come from another country, or live in a home where English is not the primary language, said Latham. Compounding the issue is that 83 percent come from low-income families, according to the state.

Latham said that up to 100 students between the ages of 16 and 20 entered Lynn schools last year with little or no formal schooling. “If they’ve never come to school or have never read or written in any language, then these kids are prime to drop out,” she said.

Jay McManus, director of the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, said his organization provided legal help last year to dozens of unaccompanied immigrant students who fled Central America and are seeking to become residents. Some live on couches of extended families or friends; many were physically or sexually assaulted in their home countries, or on their way to the United States.

McManus said the AmeriCorps worker assigned to the law center will interact with the schools and help the students get everything from health insurance to mental health treatment.

The students “come here and are largely penniless. They don’t speak the language and need assistance in transitioning in the community, and the schools and the education piece is going to be a primary focus for us,” he said.

Gregg Ellenberg, associate executive director at the Lynn YMCA, said two AmeriCorps workers will be assigned to his facility, where up to 300 students take part in an after-school English literacy program. He said the extra staff will also work with middle school students, and serve as mentors and tutors.

Ellenberg said even students who were born in this country to immigrants can face literacy problems because their parents don’t speak English. “To have qualified tutors and staff that can provide that literacy support outside of school is huge,” he said.

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@ globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.
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