Smart Beginnings NRV is hiring new AmeriCorps Members

Apply Today!!

July 2015

Smart Beginnings New River Valley is a coalition of business, nonprofit, and government leaders working for wise investments in early childhood development. We have partnered with the VT Engage AmeriCorps Network for the past year and are excited to announce that we will continue this partnership in the fall.

We are hiring 12 new AmeriCorps Members who will work with us for an entire year, beginning in early September. Each of these 12 AmeriCorps Members will be Family Literacy Resource Specialists who will:

  • Work with local child care centers
  • Coordinate Reading Hour- a volunteer reading mentor program
  • Provide additional literacy support to child care centers and families
  • Participate in professional development opportunities within Smart Beginnings and the VT Engage AmeriCorps Network

2 positions will be 675-hour positions (~13 hours/week for 52 weeks). They will be responsible for coordinating programming in either Pulaski or Giles County. They will receive:

  • $2,150 AmeriCorps Education Award after completion of their term. The AmeriCorps Education Award can be transferred to family members.
  • $281/month as a volunteer stipend during their year of service.

10 positions will be 300-hour positions (~6 hours/week for 52 weeks, or ~10 hours/week for 32 weeks). They will be responsible for coordinating programming at one or more childcare centers in Montgomery, Radford or Floyd. They will receive:

  • $1,195 AmeriCorps Education Award after the completion of their term.
  • $100/month as a volunteer stipend during their year of service.

How will you benefit?

As an AmeriCorps Member, you will:

  • Improve the lives of children
  • Have a positive impact on your community
  • Give hope and support to those in need
  • Encourage those around you to give back to the world around them
  • Receive support from Smart Beginnings NRV and VT Engage

Apply Today!!

Find more information, FAQs, and or to apply visit the VT Engage AmeriCorps webpage. Please contact Mary Beth Wisniewski at with questions.


4-year-olds needed for study on children's ability to control their actions

Forwarded from: Virginia Tech Psychology Department

The C.A.P. Lab in the Psychology Department is conducting a new study focusing on children’s developing ability to control their actions during card games. During this visit, they will play some fun word and memory games. In addition to these games, they are interested in collecting information about the physiological components of these abilities.

The visit should last about one to two hours. They are looking for 4-year-old children. They offer a $10 Target gift card as compensation for parents and a toy for children, and we can provide childcare for siblings. If you are interested in this study, you may contact Alleyne Ross by phone at 540-231-2320 or email


Summer 2016 AmeriCorps Member Victoria Childress

Victoria Childress Victoria Childress graduated from Virginia Tech in May with a master's degree in Public Health Education. She is passionate about early-childhood development, believing firmly that education is vital to well-being. She is very excited about this AmeriCorps placement with Smart Beginnings, which offers her the unique opportunity to combine public outreach with her love of books. She works with four childcare centers. So far, she has had a blast sharing her favorite books and designing crafts for the kids to do. Her other duties include recruiting "celebrity readers," organizing centers' libraries, and even helping children make their own books using pictures of themselves. She hopes to use the insight gained from this experience to inform a career in maternal and child health.


Summer 2016 AmeriCorps Member Conner Donovan

Conner Donovan Connor Donovan is the author of the novel The Void Threatens. He is currently attending Virginia Tech and is set to graduate in spring, 2016. Majoring in Communication Studies, he plans to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing and possibly a PhD as well. He loves writing, reading, philosophy, coffee and the arts. Born in Morristown, NJ on July 19, 1993, Connor hopes to inspire creativity and change through his work with AmeriCorps, his writing, and beyond. Literacy is extremely important to him and part of the reason he joined AmeriCorps in the first place. Through his time with AmeriCorps he hopes to make an impact on as many kids as possible, and inspire them all to read and enjoy literacy more.


Summer 2016 AmeriCorps Member Jessica Levy

Jessica Levy My name is Jessica Levy and I will be a junior at Virginia Tech in Fall of 2015 and am pursuing a degree in Biological Sciences. I am also an active member of the Virginia Tech a cappella community. I spent time during two summers in the Dominican Republic working closely with local children as well as in a mobile medical clinic. This summer, I wanted to continue to be active in my community and serve, so I am so glad that I have been able to work so closely with kids and teachers in the New River Valley.  From reading individually with kids to doing literacy activities on the playground to organizing libraries, Smart Beginnings in partnership with AmeriCorps and VT Engage has provided so many opportunities to expose literacy to kids at an early age and set them up for academic success. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer will bring!


Summer 2016 AmeriCorps Katie Testut

Hi! My name is Katie Testut and I am a rising senior studying History and Political Science with minors in Communication and 21st Century Studies.  I got involved with Smart Beginnings Reading Hour last semester as a weekly volunteer reader and I am so excited to become more involved with the program over the summer!  I am working to expand literacy in the New River Valley by doing literacy crafts, organizing and cataloging libraries, and reading with kids.  I love getting the kids excited about literacy and am looking forward to seeing what the rest of the summer has in store for me!


The Changing Cost of Education When Raising a Child

One of these lines is not like the others


Building a Child’s Brain: A Parent’s Privilege

Parents are the most important and enduring influence in the lives of children. Excellent parenting does not demand perfection—but does require loving involvement and sensitive interaction, responsive to the unique nature of each child. Researchers in neuroscience now realize “brains are not born, but built.” Unlike most other organs, the brain is not complete at birth! Although the brain cells are all in place, the “wiring” of the brain is not fully formed, but emerges over time through stimulation in the context of nurturing relationships, with the most rapid explosion in synaptic connections between cells occurring in the first few years of life. This period builds either a sturdy or a weak foundation for all learning that follows.

Scientists stress several things: (1) Both nature and nurture are involved in brain development. (2) The care a child receives in the early years has a lasting impact on development and the ability to learn and manage emotions. (3) Though
the brain is adaptable, there are sensitive times for optimal development.
(4) Negative experiences or the lack of stimulation may have lasting consequences.

Why is this important for parents and caregivers to know? Parents are the very first teachers a child has—and, in fact, are co-architects of the brain. The loving interaction between a young child and the parent builds on and expands nature’s basic foundation. Scientists describe this interaction as a “serve and return” action: the child naturally reaches out to the parent in some way, and adults respond with words or gestures. This back and forth exchange strengthens the architecture of the brain, affirms the child’s sense of worth, and enhances social development. With repetition and stimulation, these connections are not only dramatically increased, but become permanent. Without appropriate stimulation the child will fail to achieve full potential.

The foundation for success in school and life begins at or before birth, with parents enjoying the privilege of being the very first teachers for their child, followed by additional partners in the educational process.

We have always known parents are important—science simply confirms and gives practical definition to their impact. So what is a loving parent to do? Fortunately, this is not rocket science—here are some tips:

  • Give consistent, loving care, with gentle, affectionate touch, promoting both physical and brain development.
  • Engage in language with your child from the moment of birth, using words, songs, books and rhymes. Watch for and respond to cues from your child, practicing “serve and return” interaction. Repeat whatever your child says, adding additional words. Note: passively watching TV does not have the same impact!
  • Look for teachable moments all through the day, using ordinary actions as “windows for learning.” Name items, identify colors, count, describe things outdoors and concepts such as bigger/smaller, hot/cold.
  • Introduce children to music, which develops the areas of the brain required for math and spatial reasoning.
  • Mirror the behavior you want to see in your child: a soft voice, patience in solving problems, ways to handle a variety of emotions. A child’s healthy attachment to the parent provides the necessary foundation for trust, independence, and effective relationships with others later in life.


Improving Literacy Through Crafts

             When I started coordinating Reading Hour, I had no idea what to expect from the children. I never really gave thought to the attention span of a three or four year old, or their level of comprehension when reading. What I really didn’t understand is that reading hour has the potential to make a child either like or dislike reading, depending upon their experience. After the first few weeks of struggling to maintain enthusiasm and attention from the children participating in the program, I decided to do some research on child literacy.  Children that do not have the motivation to read for fun are less likely to actually read, and therefore they are less likely to read throughout their time in elementary school because they do not view it as a fun activity. This dislike and lack of motivation can begin as early as prekindergarten which can in turn affect a child for the next decade of their school career. After discovering this, I decided I needed to alter the program in order to ensure that the children were motivated to participate in reading hour. I started to research different literacy crafts and began incorporating a literacy activity at the end of every reading hour. Each reading hour now has a focus book, along with reading a myriad of books to the children, each volunteer will end their reading hour with the same book. That book will act as the focus book, and immediately after reading that book, the child will do a craft associated with that book. For example, last week we read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?  by Eric Carle. After reading the book, the children all made bear puppets out of brown paper bags with their reading buddy. This enforces the book and reading comprehension, but also engages the children and allows them to associate reading and crafts. This keeps the children interested in reading and in my experience has tremendously improved their comprehension and excitement in reading. Maintaining a child’s excitement about reading is a pivotal part of the Reading Hour program. 

--Taylor Wills

Reading Hour Video

Please enjoy this video about Reading Hour, and consider volunteering with us! Thank you, The Learning Ladder Child Development Center for providing an amazing space to film and adorable children! Thank you, Joelle Shenk and Andrew Mussey for producing the video, and, finally, thank you to our very talented actors!