I know my students are powerful, smart, creative and have everything they need in them to be successful. I also know that school can be tough.
I knew I had made it when, at age 22, I became a Pickle Bob. The Pickle Bobs are a close-knit group of fifth-graders who attend Graham Hill Elementary, and their teacher and I were inducted last year. But let me back up, so you get the full picture.
I am a City Year AmeriCorps member serving at Graham Hill. I am here to help close the opportunity gap in Seattle Public Schools. This is important as stark disparities exist between educational opportunities for students across the city, where many children of color and those from low-income families fall behind their peers.
I work with students who are slightly below grade level to give one-on-one and small-group attention and supplement my partner teacher. During math, after the whole-class lesson, I work with students to help them practice the skills they’re learning. I lead students during reading to practice analyzing the books we’re reading together. Writing time means consulting one-on-one on topics they’ve picked and encouraging them to write about things that interest them, such as Beyoncé, Marvel superheroes, and whether cats or dogs are better.
I also serve as a near-peer mentor. For example, during days when we have substitute teachers and the students act unrulier, one of my fellow Pickle Bobs was concerned their teacher wouldn’t be informed about her peers’ actions. Together, we decided she would write a letter to their teacher about how the class behaved while he was out. At the end of the year, this Pickle Bob wrote me the loveliest letter appreciating my support and advice over the year, which made me start bawling.
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These relationships have a lasting impact. My fifth-graders from last year are now in middle school, and they talk about me with their new City Year AmeriCorps members. I visited one day at lunchtime and got updates on how their new classes are and what clubs they’re involved in. I also was invited to their band and orchestra concert and cheered like a proud sports mom from the audience.
These small interactions lead to big improvements in outcomes. Nationally, City Year has helped drive a 47 percent reduction in the number of students off-track in math, and a 51 percent reduction in the number of students off-track in English language arts. Attending class, tutoring outside of the classroom and positive behavior habits were shown to contribute to 74 percent of students in grades 3-5 making gains in literacy and math scores, and more than a third of students improving at least one grade level.
The impact goes beyond report cards: helping kids with positive behavior results in a marked improvement in their ability to treat each other with respect and resolve differences positively.
All this is nothing to say about what my students are teaching me: curiosity about cultures and foods new to me, a renewed interest in how science and engineering work, and an inspiration to write and make art more often. When I leave City Year, I will be in a great position to become a librarian, which I only investigated after one of my fellow Pickle Bobs told me it would be my perfect job.
I know my students are powerful, smart, creative and have everything they need in them to be successful. I also know that school can be tough. I think about what might happen with my students when they go into high school, knowing that City Year isn’t yet serving Seattle high schools.
I encourage young people like me to get involved by serving with AmeriCorps, but there are many ways to make a difference in the lives of students.