Grace Goodwin (class of 2013) has been hard at work since graduating, putting the skills she aquired in the SOAN program to good use as an AmeriCorps member. When I found out she’d been accepted to a grad program at Seattle University, I asked if she could write a short update on her first, successful year out of college. Here it is!
This past September I began my 10.5-month term of service with an AmeriCorps program based out of Federal Way, WA. Federal Way Public Schools AmeriCorps (FWPS for short) is a program that partners with most of the public schools in the district, providing them with AmeriCorps members who serve as academic tutors and who also work to develop before and after school programs.
I was assigned to Enterprise Elementary, a wonderful school with a great sense of humor, but I think the Star Trek reference is lost on most of the students. I see about 50 students throughout the entire day, my work primarily focused around math intervention. Teachers identify their most struggling students, who then come to me for extra support in an attempt to bring them back up to grade level. I support kindergarten through 5th grade and so my days vary from rote counting to multiplication songs to fractions, and all the students’ complications and heartbreak.
Except for a handful of students here and there who exit my math group because they no longer need the extra support, I’ve been with the same students all year. It has definitely been a life-changing opportunity to work with these children and catch a glimpse of the multiplicity of their experiences. The academic portion of my job seems like the least important at times, when viewed in light of these children’s lived experiences. I work with one girl whose mother is a drug addict; two other students are refugees from Eritrea; another girl is the youngest of six kids raised by a single mother with no job; a couple I suspect live in abusive households; and for almost half of my students, English is not their first language. It becomes almost impossible to help a student improve academically without forging a relationship first, and learning about all the obstacles they’re facing outside of school. My AmeriCorps colleagues have shared stories of kindergarteners who’ve seen their mothers beaten or murdered, first graders who live out of the family car, second graders whose only male role models are in prison, third graders who come to school with no shoes, and so it becomes no wonder that as 4th and 5th graders, many of these students began gravitating towards gangs for protection. Working to impart self-confidence does wonders for a student’s academic performance.
Once my term of service ends this summer, I will be attending Seattle University to pursue a Masters in Criminal Justice. My service with FWPS AmeriCorps has definitely given me a better understanding of the school-to-prison pipeline, which has been one part of my inspiration in pursuing graduate education and the Criminal Justice Masters.
Working one on one with students has been invaluable, teaching me so much more than I could hope to learn in sociology classes on education or poverty alone, although understandings acquired in those classes have been immeasurably helpful in knowing how to approach my job. My students have shown me how to risk failure, to risk vulnerability, and to always get back up. My service with AmeriCorps has challenged me to invest in a new community, afforded me the opportunity to develop new relationships, and encouraged me to find innovative ways to tackle community problems. AmeriCorps provides its members with real world experience and pushes them far beyond their comfort zones and so I highly encourage anyone who’s unsure of their next step after college, or anyone who is just service oriented, to explore opportunities with AmeriCorps.
Thanks for the update, Grace, and congratulations on your accomplishments with AmeriCorps, as well as your acceptance to the Criminal Justice program at Seattle University. We are all very proud of you, and hope to hear from you again soon!