Peace Corps Volunteers to Join Massive Community Effort to Bridge Economic and Cultural Barriers to Student Success

May 1, 2001
The Community Bridge Project -- a unique partnership with former Peace Corps volunteers, community and immigrant organizations, businesses, and students, parents, and faculty of both Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and Montgomery College -- has been formed to help children and families who are highly impacted by poverty, language development, and mobility.

The project, which will apply the cross-cultural skills of men and women who trained to work in foreign countries to the needs of immigrants and low income families in Montgomery County, was formally announced at a press conference today [Tuesday, May 1] at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park. The event featured the participation of Sargent Shriver, founding director of the Peace Corps, who lives in Montgomery County, and other former Peace Corp volunteers, elected officials, and community leaders.

Initially serving the Broad Acres and Rolling Terrace elementary school communities, the Community Bridge Project will address the challenges caused by the rapid transformation of Montgomery County into Maryland's most diverse community.

The new collaboration, the first such relationship developed between the Peace Corps and an entire school system, is the outgrowth of a project initiated earlier this year by members of the Leadership Montgomery Class of 2001 to focus on issues related to education and other areas where government, private industry, and individuals can make a meaningful difference in the community. Montgomery County has one of the largest concentrations of former Peace Corps volunteers in the nation.

Although numerous government and private initiatives have sought to alleviate the impact of poverty, mobility, and language barriers on student achievement, this new project is unique in that it will employ the abilities of returned Peace Corps volunteers in cross-cultural relations, community organizing, and language skills to bridge these opportunity gaps. Among the services these volunteers will provide are translations, mentoring, tutoring, home visits, and other community outreach activities all designed to end a pattern of underachievement among certain racial and ethnic groups.

In addition to the involvement of returned Peace Corps volunteers, the Community Bridge Project has launched the development of an AmeriCorps grant application through the State. The State of Maryland has recommended the program for funding to the Corporation for National Service. If CNS approves the grant, AmeriCorps volunteers would be recruited this summer to begin work in September with the pilot schools and additional sites in the school system, as well as with other organizations doing important work in the community in the areas of housing, technology, and community development. The program would operate under the auspices of the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education and target Montgomery College students as its volunteer base.

A third aspect of the Community Bridge Project is the inclusion of the school system in the Coverdell World Wise Schools program of the Peace Corps. MCPS will be the first school district known as a World Wise School System. Each county school will be enrolled, and the school system will be able to use Culture Matters, a publication used to train Peace Corps volunteers, as a training tool for teachers, principals, and other staff. World Wise Schools will also provide curriculum support materials and videotapes on geography, social studies, and language arts. School personnel and students will have opportunities to correspond with active Peace Corps volunteers.

The Community Bridge Project addresses significant needs in Montgomery County. Of the 25,000 students in the Silver Spring/Takoma Park region, nearly 45 percent are economically disadvantaged and 12 percent speak English as a second language. In addition, these schools experience a 23 percent mobility rate in student population each year.

Throughout the county, international students now number about 16,000 from more than 151 countries. Nearly half of all students receiving English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instruction in Maryland reside in Montgomery County. The percentage of students receiving federal meal assistance is 22 percent.

This combination of poverty, mobility, and language development appreciably impacts the academic achievement of many children, particularly those students who come from families that are faced with cultural and language barriers of their own. The school system recognizes that these students face an opportunity gap that manifests itself well before kindergarten and, if not addressed, continues to widen as these students progress through school.

For more information about the Peace Corps and the community-based activities among returned Peace Corps volunteers, see the links below:

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