Brighter Days Story: Jules and Davina from Aim High AmeriCorps
As a freshman at Bowdoin College, Jules enrolled in an Introductory course to Contemporary American Education. It was a broad class, examining the philosophy of public schooling. She found herself loving it, partly because of the incredibly inspiring professor (who would become her mentor) and also because she had spent many of her teenage years as a tutor and a camp counselor. Jules realized she had always felt drawn to working with young people, and began to see her passion for education as something she could pursue professionally. She logged many hours of student teaching throughout her years at Bowdoin, and was planning to begin a rigorous certification program that would certify her to teach high school English. But as graduation day approached, she received a Career Planning Newsletter describing an opportunity to join AmeriCorps and work with Elementary school students as part of LearningWorks’ AIM High program. She decided to change her plans and apply, thinking it would be fun to work with younger students for a few months, and that it would offer her further classroom experience before enrolling in her intense certification program.
Right away, she realized that the AmeriCorps position at Talbot Community School would be a very different experience than the student teaching she had done. She’d become accustomed to standing and delivering lessons to large groups of high school students. At Talbot, she had the opportunity to play a support role, and work one-on-one with young students – each with unique skills, learning styles, and stories. She found herself with the space and time to develop trusting and personal relationships with students like Davina, an 8 year old multilingual student. Each week, she and Davina meet to go over her “sight words” or words that Davina incrementally adds to her vocabulary throughout the school year to stay at grade level for reading comprehension. When they began working together, Davina could only identify a few of the words, but she is dedicated in her work with Jules, and now has many words under her belt. Jules wasn’t expecting to be able to offer this kind of personalized approach to education, and she also wasn’t expecting to so fully integrate into the school community herself. The staff, administrators, students and their families have all warmly welcomed her. “The teachers are super supportive of each other and interconnected. I have been given lots of trust and responsibility. I attend team meetings, help with planning, and eat lunch with the teachers.” She says. “This is what I need right now. Other programs are more rigid and have a set-track: student teaching for an allotted period of time, then an exam, then certification. AIM High is more fluid and I’ve been able to shape my own experience and follow my interests.”
She’s even been exposed to teaching roles she didn’t know existed, like English Language Learner Specialists and Reading Specialists. Curious about their methods, she formed a connection with Talbot’s ELL specialist who shared several techniques with her. Now Jules is able to incorporate these tools into her lessons with ELL students like Davina. This way of learning and teaching collaboratively feels expansive to Jules, and has made her seriously reconsider her next steps.
When it came time for Jules to transition into her Post-Grad teaching certification program this winter, she only lasted 3 weeks before missing the 2nd graders at Talbot and deciding to return for an extra semester. She is currently finishing out the school year with her students and colleagues, even though her required AmeriCorps hours are officially completed. “I’m trying to embrace the flexibility in my plans. I have so much to learn here — things I never considered before. AmeriCorps has shown me that it’s okay to change your mind, to be present for experiences, and to see where they lead you.”
Photos and story by Molly Haley: www.mollyhaley.com