Students who need assistance but avoid or refuse it are the most trying. I can’t make them get on the bus each morning, do their homework each night, and repeat the cycle five days a week. When they are pregnant or parenting and attempting to survive high school they are even more resistant to help.
Picture a 17-year-old girl with a 3-month-old daughter. She should be a senior this year, but last year during her pregnancy she skipped a lot of school, didn’t do her homework and failed most of her classes. Her schools counselors have worked with her this year placing her in some repeat classes and some senior classes. She will need to do an extra semester next fall in order to graduate. However, if she continues to skip school and homework she will likely continue to tack on extra semesters until she ages out. There are so many ways I have helped her and so many things I could do, but she isn’t very receptive. I’ve gone out of my way never to receive a thank you. Most of the time I can’t even get a response to the question, “How are you?” I can only imagine what feelings and thoughts must make up a 17-year-old new mother and student whose child’s father is so often absent and never faithful, whose mother is homeless and staying with family, and has never provided stable living and emotional support to a daughter who still needs help growing up.
I imagine her looking in the mirror and seeing her mother looking back at her making her feel like a failure. Everything she never wanted for her life is playing out like a generational curse. She is staying with her sister and considered homeless, now a teen parent, struggling with her education and at risk for giving up, she isn’t currently eligible for many employment opportunities, and has a child by an absent young man. It is easy to see that she feels like giving up, but I don’t think she will.
As a participant in the MotherLove Program she has received assistance with day care vouchers so that she may continue to attend school and know that her daughter is well looked after. The day care her daughter attends also provides her with free transportation to and from school each day. I can see her determination in her attendance record. She hasn’t missed a single day since the day care began providing her transportation. She may be a step behind her classmates, but she is still determined to graduate regardless of when she will be graduating. If she continues to struggle with her classes the program will be able to help her transition into a school that will assist her with early graduation to avoid aging out of the school system.
Even though what she currently sees in the mirror isn’t what she wants for herself or her daughter she is making great strides to change her reflection. She has allowed the MotherLove program to help her along the way, but is very much an independent individual determined to do it on her own. Even if I never get a single thank you for the things I do to help her along the way I am going to be proud of her. I know she is capable of great things and that alone makes this a great story.
AmeriCorps Project POWER- Team 16
Playing basketball had become an intermediary between homework time and when the kids arrive. This was not planned and more of what seemed to me to be just a time wasting activity. Ever since I could remember I always treated the act of playing basketball as a sort of meditative way of bettering myself. In this I have development certain rules that I abide by while playing that make me feel better. One of these rules and the most important is not leaving the court on a miss ever! This rule grew with me the more that I played and practiced over the years as I have advanced and grew in the sport. As I was playing the kids began to notice that I would never leave the court without making a shot. The asked me about it and I told them my story and about how this gives me a sort of comfort. Being that these are 4th grade boys I fully expected the unsure cynicism that is policed by their peers, but this time they just listened and internalized what I shared.
At that I thought it was nice and moved on to something else. Around a week later I had all but forgotten about the interaction. As we were leaving the court I performed my post basketball ritual and began to wrap things up and take some kids to the woods. While walking back a somewhat troublesome 4th grader runs up beside and say “Never leave the court without making a shot”, “Right Jake”. This seemingly sincere moment unexpectedly warmed my heart. I never really knew how it felt until that moment for someone to listen and keep one of my rules. At this moment I felt that I had some inside information on why teachers teach. I instilled some information in a person that may potentially help them in some way down the road. Its interesting because this future adult will have the opportunity to teach future generations what I taught him and in that I am truly immortal.
What a better way to kick-off a service year than to be totally inspired by your community? On the second week of my work here at MANNA FoodBank, we held an Emergency Packing day. At this time, the Food Stamp benefit system was changing. This caused delays in approval for new food stamp applications and renewals for those currently receiving benefits. While many people were waiting for their benefits, hunger was not.
MANNA FoodBank organized an Emergency Packing day. Volunteers filled the warehouse ready to work. The goal was to prepare emergency food boxes for people in need. The boxes were delivered to MANNA’a partner agencies and then distributed to the agency’s clients. The boxes were filled with noodles, proteins, vegetables and other non-perishable food items.
The volunteers form an assembly line. Everyone was doing their own part in making the boxes complete. What was truly amazing was the pace and energy that filled the room. People were working extremely hard, but with a great spirit. At times, it was hard to keep up with them on the line! What was driving all of us was the need. We did not want to see our neighbors going hungry.
Every day when I look out into the Volunteer Center here at MANNA, I am truly impressed. There are people that volunteer here every week, there are school groups, individuals here from transitional homes. Everyone that comes wants to give something back. What a powerful place to be, a room surrounded by people who are giving their time to help someone else out. I will always be impressed by the outpouring of support the community gave us that day.
AmeriCorps Project POWER- Team 16
ArtSpace Charter School
Artspace Charter School is a small little warehouse out in Swannanoa where there is a seamless line between learning and art. If you were driving past the school you would have no clue about all of amazing things that were going on in this former warehouse now K-8 school.
During my first couple of weeks at Artspace I was floating through multiple classrooms seeing 100 different middle schoolers. I was so overwhelmed with names and faces and thought I would never be able to figure out who is who much less make connections with them. Most classes I am only in for an hour or two a day walking around helping with math.
Math is something that I LOVE and part of my goal working with these kids is to spread the love of math. Most of the students I work with math is their worst subjects, something that they don’t understand and they believe that they cannot do it. So every time I am with them I try to plant little seeds of math hope. Show them problems that they CAN do. Highlight their strengths instead of harping upon their weakness. Even if this is only a 2-minute interaction I try to make it as meaningful as possible.
This month I have really started to notice a difference in the connections that I have made with the kids. In class they are coming up to me and saying, “Ms. Rebecca can you please help me with my math!”. They are also asking to be in my math group, not wanting me to leave and saying hi to me when they see me pass through the halls. I have a small tutor group of 5th and 6th graders after school 4 days a week and they are really surprising me with how much they are starting to take advantage of it. They come in and ask me to work out different sorts of problems and they other day they were begging me for homework help. It has been great to have their attitudes change from being made to come to tutoring to now looking forward to being there.
I am now making connections with the kids and they are now starting to make some connections with the math. It has been great using my strengths to help improve their weakness and change the weakness to a newfound skill and strength.
AmeriCorps Project POWER- Team 16
Hall Fletcher Elementary/Learning Center at Pisgahview
I work at Hall-Fletcher Elementary in the morning with twenty forth-graders. It’s pretty great and fun and frustrating. During my previous AmeriCorps service year I worked in an eighth grade at a local charter school, and it’s been an interesting transition from the kind of interactions and intellectual conversations I had with those twelve-and-thirteen-year-olds to engaging with an elementary-age class.
The second day on the job I walked in to the classroom and found Charles* curled-up under his desk, crying up a storm. The teacher asked me to talk him out of his freak-out, so I crawled under his desk and asked him what was up. Now, Charles is a dramatic character. We talked about how he hates his teacher and hates his life and wanted to die. I said that he probably didn’t actually want to die, and that his teacher was being strict because she wanted him to do his homework. I told him that sometimes life brings us people who might make you angry or frustrated, but that life is just teaching you how to be patient and tranquil. Since then Charles has given me a hug every time I come to class in the morning.
Arthur* is a really sweet boy. I’ll check his homework and he’ll say, “Did I do a great job?” He’s always grabbing my arm to arm-wrestle me and clinging and hugging onto it, which is funny because he’s built like a linebacker. Arthur’s pretty low on the literacy spectrum. He primarily reads the “Henry and Mudge” series, simple picture books about a boy and his dog. We’ve been working on the concept of “predicting” in reading block for the past couple of weeks, and Arthur has struggled to grasp it. We’ll talk about making a prediction; about guessing what will happen in the future of the story using information you’ve already read in the story. For weeks Arthur has predicted that, for example, “Henry eats ice cream,” because “Henry likes ice cream.” But this past week he predicted, “Henry will play in the snow,” because “Henry doesn’t want to go inside.” He used the future tense! I was very proud of him, and let him know he did a great job.
I love going to the library with the children and helping them pick out books. One of the girls, Rene, is really into dragons. She has read every book in the “How to Train Your Dragon” series, and last week she was looking for more dragon books to read. I found “Eragon”, a young-adults’ novel about heroes and dragons, and her eyes lit up. She’s been reading “Eragon” and a compendium of monsters for the past week. I turned a student on to a young readers’ version of The Odyssey. It had sea-monsters on the cover, and I said, “Hey, if you like Percy Jackson, then you should check this out.” He read the whole thing, and only struggled with all the Greek names.
We have good days and we have mediocre days, but there aren’t really any bad days. Working with younger children can be more repetitive at times, but it feels more simple and genuine too. It’s fun, and I feel like I’m doing good work. More news as it develops. Chris Woodward, over and out.
*All names of minors changed for the sake of privacy.