VALPARAISO | When her husband, a Valparaiso native, got a job in Valparaiso two years ago, the couple arrived too late for Gina Wagenblast to get a teaching job despite her 15 years of experience and a master's degree.
She worked as an aide with disadvantaged students for a year, but last summer she was contacted about a new position. Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent Andrew Melin wanted a parent coordinator through the AmeriCorps program.
"The goal of the job is to increase parental involvement in the school," Wagenblast said. "This community already has great functioning parent-teacher groups, but it was a great opportunity to volunteer in an area I'm passionate about."
Since starting in August, she has expanded the position, meeting regularly with the parent-teacher group presidents to get and share ideas. Among other things, she created Viking University, which gives parents a better understanding of how the schools operate.
She has organized seminars and workshops and recently held a session for parents of incoming kindergartners. She started a weekly column in The Times written by different school officials and is coordinating the mentoring program, for which she is looking for more adults who can provide guidance on careers and other issues.
"I think AmeriCorps really gives you an opportunity to give back to the community," Wagenblast said. "The school district might have the idea for something like this, but AmeriCorps gives it a chance to look at it to see how it goes. It's a way to get more people involved with the youth in the schools."