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Fitz Center for Leadership in Community

Skyler's experiences: keeping our schoolchildren engaged through AmeriCorps

By Skyler Foster

Last year at around the beginning of the year I had gotten an email. In that email the main thing I pulled out was "living stipend." I didn't really understand what the email was so I followed the link and it lead me to the AmeriCorps website. There I was able to read a little more and came to the understanding that I could volunteer/serve in the Dayton area and receive a living stipend. This would be during the summer.

Last summer was the first summer I was staying in Dayton (I am not originally from the area) and I had no clue what I was going to do make money while down here, I just knew I was staying. So I figured out how to apply and after reading the descriptions of the three different areas I decided the education area seemed to be the best fit.

After I sent my application in I just waited and had also emailed a couple people to figure out next steps. After a couple months I got in touch with my now site supervisor and set up and "phone interview" to go over what exactly everything is. I still really had no clue what I was getting myself into. The phone interview went great and I had a little better understanding of what all it would entail.

I would be at the Dayton Metro Libraries, at two different branches serving with other members and we would be reading buddies, reading with kids and working with them in the library to keep them active in their learning. This is a way to keep them from regressing over the summer by playing educational games with them, including the use of worksheets and really anything that was educational. I thought that sounded pretty neat. I had an interview, still a little weary and not knowing what to expect. I had never worked with children before so I wasn't sure I was even right for this service. The interview went well and I ended up getting the position. I thought well, here goes nothing.

I really enjoyed the orientation leading up to the start of the program because it allowed me to get to know the others within my corps. I think this was really crucial in setting up for a successful term.

Once service was started, those of us that were just the summer term were then introduced to those who were serving a year long term. It was kind of intimidating - I am not going to lie. I remember being at Northwest on my first day, sitting with two other summer members and the yearlong members sitting on the other side of the room. I still wasn't sure what the layout was or what exactly we were supposed to do.

The other summer members and I were just sitting there whispering to each other, not really knowing what to do and so I looked over at them and said "so what are we suppose to do?" and they were in the same boat as us. They told us that the school year term was the polar opposite of summer and they also had not served a summer term. That was relieving because we were all in this together.

From then on, I was no longer intimidated and we all got along with each other which made serving that much better. We made a great team!

As for working with the kids, it was an absolute joy. Getting to meet all these different kids from different neighborhoods and different schools was so fun. I really enjoyed seeing them work together on the games we played.

The experience opened my eyes to how much our education system is failing our students. Too many kids would come in and you could immediately tell they were behind where they should be for their age. It was definitely something I never really put much thought into before and it certainly was upsetting.

As the summer progressed I got a lot closer with the other members as well as the students and I loved walking into the library, seeing them recognize me with a friendly wave! I also got to know the library staff and it also introduced me to the public library itself and all it has to offer.

I take pride in helping to get our education corps team to be close by always asking them to hang out. I was always planning things for us all to do. I could tell that the year long members really didn't talk during service let alone outside of it and that definitely changed over the course of the term.

As the summer started to come to end, a few other members decided to renew their service for the next term during the school year and while I thought for sure didn't want to do that, the more I thought about it, I decided that it would be better for me to continue as well. I was curious about how differently the school year term operated. At the beginning I was in it for the money, but that shifted during the term and I realized I was there for the students. They were why I wanted to renew.

After renewing my service from the summer to yearlong term, I was very eager as well as nervous. This was a different ball game and I was basically brand new all over again. I will say it was a rocky start figuring out the documentation, as well as juggling my service with school, work and the extracurriculas I was involved in, but eventually I found a happy medium.

I was happy to be serving alongside some of the same people from summer so I knew that it couldn't be too bad. It seemed overwhelming to work with the students because I had no idea what homework they would have or if I would even be able to help. But over time, as with anything, it just came naturally how to start working with a student if they were new or returning.

I loved seeing so many students come back day after day and keep working hard. I'd have to say the best part of serving is seeing a student excited to be there but also excited to see you and want to work with you. That was so rewarding.

I had a few students that worked really well together and they would give me a hug or a high five afterwards, which was awesome. I loved walking to the homework room and seeing students out in the library, waving to me.

Again, this program opened my eyes to how our system is failing our students and exactly just how behind so many students are, whether that be in reading, math or any subject really. While it was very heartbreaking to see so many students struggling, it was so rewarding working with them and seeing them improve over the course of the school year. We had a set of twins that just could just barely read and by February they were getting through paragraphs with only some help here and there. I only hope that their time with us sticks with them and they continue to work hard and improve. It really made me think how lucky I was to go to the school I did and how I was able to learn to read on time and just how easily that could've derailed if had I been in a different school with different teachers.

I am frustrated that our time serving got cut so short by everything going on but I am so thankful for the time I did get and the impression I was able to leave on the kids that I worked with. I am thankful to have been able to serve another term with my fellow service members. I know that I will always be friends with them. I look forward to meeting up years from now and reflecting on our time together. I enjoyed serving alongside my supervisors and it gave me a better look into the community that is Dayton. I was able to do and see so much through serving and also meet so many people. This was an experience of a life time.

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Imani's experiences: engaging with community through AmeriCorps

I started AmeriCorps almost a year ago. I remember joining on a whim, I had no idea if I even liked kids enough to help them.
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