Books!

May 23, 2017

Brianna is serving as a minimum time member at SCALE with the America Reads Program. America Reads is a social justice and literacy initiative at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which prepares college students to work as literacy tutors for children in K through fifth grades.

There is something so incredibly awe-inspiring about books. Not only can they teach you something new about people, places, and things, but they can also transport you across space and time to a whole new world! A world crafted by words and pages that take you on an incredible journey where you become the main character. With books, you can be anything, go anywhere, and do whatever it is that your heart desires, effectively allowing you to escape your own reality and dive head first into a new one.

Growing up, I always loved books. I loved to go on secret adventures and be the fearless heroine that got to fight villains and fly on dragons. I would lock myself in my room for hours upon hours, beg my parents to buy me the newest book series, and even spend my lunch periods reading, making a sizable dent in my school’s library selections. Books were my first friend and have remained my best friend throughout the years. I found myself by getting lost in books and believe that I am all the better for it.

Enter the Martin Luther King Day Book Harvest donation drive. This collection drive was meant to collect books to give to kids who were without them. To be able to indirectly introduce children to the joy and awe that reading so often evokes in individuals was enough for me to not only jump at a chance at volunteering, but it also put a permanent smile on my face for the whole day! Thankfully, the book drive was successful and we helped raise over 5,000 books! To think that some children were introduced to their first book thanks to this amazing collaborative effort, their first encounter with being able to experience a whole new world crafted by the beautiful mind of the author is equal parts humbling and exciting to me. Even to think that I somehow played a role in possibly helping at least one kid find their first friend or maybe even their best friend in books still warms my heart to this very day!

After leaving this event, I felt as if my purpose was renewed. As I went back to my weekly tutoring sessions with America Reads, I knew that I had to do a better job of convincing my kids that there were far more to books than mere page numbers and allotted time. I felt that it was my personal mission to share one of my greatest joys with my tutees in hopes that one of them would be the least bit interested in what I had to say. After carefully planned questions and prodding, I found that my kids really did enjoy reading, but only if they got to pick the book. Thrilled at this admission, I allowed them to bring in their own books to read and feel that this triggered the turning point in our sessions.

I found that one of my tutees really loved both the Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson series and wouldn’t be telling the whole truth if I didn’t say that we’ve had at least a dozen arguments regarding which house was better and why Ares was so much better than Poseidon. I saw a joy light up in my first grader’s eyes when we would talk about his favorite part of the chapter, and soon, he was begging for three more minutes of reading time so that he could find out what happened next. This was such a stark contrast to him refusing to read in our first sessions and I was ecstatic!

My second grader was a bit different. He liked to read well enough, but when asked to discuss what he read, he would lament and say “nothing” or “boring” and try to change the subject. However, this all changed when he discovered the Warriors series and flew through the books. Though they were at least two reading levels above his grade level, he seemed to effortlessly fly through them, excitement and patience taking over his features when he had to constantly re-explain the premise because I was unfamiliar with the series. But he didn’t let that stop him from telling me all about it, who he liked, didn’t like, and what he thought would happen next. I saw a whole new side to a kid that I didn’t think enjoyed our tutoring sessions much, and I have the power of books to thank for it.

I can honestly say that looking back on my time as an America Reads tutor, the journey has been incredible! Though there were some tough times scattered throughout the semesters, I can definitely say that had it not been for the power that books hold over anyone willing enough to explore the adventure nestled strategically within their pages, I don’t think that I would have been able to bond with my students in the way that I did. Who knew that my nerdy obsession with books as a kid would continue as a hobby as an adult, and spark a passion within me to share my love of reading with those that have yet to find theirs? That day of the book drive I made a vow to myself that I would spread the wonders of books to every child that would listen. I was successful with my students, and now I’m ready to turn my sights on the children of the world!

Mi Historia

May 16, 2017

Niki is serving as a full-time AmeriCorps member at the Literacy Council of Buncombe County. The Literacy Council offers one-on-one and small group literacy instruction in three core programs: Adult Education, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and the Augustine Project ®.

In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Week, the Literacy Council of Buncombe County held an opening reception on Monday, April 24th for a special exhibit they have on loan from the Center for Diversity Education at UNCA.  The exhibit, entitled “Mi Historia: Latinos Today in Western North Carolina”, is a stunning collection of personal testimony and imagery that explores why individuals left their home countries and what life has been like in the United States.

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Volunteer tutors and their students were invited to attend the event together, guided by a series of reflection activities to facilitate a deeper understanding of issues facing the Latinx population. The exhibit highlights major contributions Latinos have made to the state economy, navigating conflicts in identity, overcoming language barriers, and sharing import aspects of culture (such as religion, food, holidays, and art).

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For those who were unable to attend the opening reception, the Literacy Council will keep the exhibit on display through the end of May. All community members are welcome to visit the space and several organizations have already taken advantage of the opportunity, including a group of students from Warren Wilson.

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Rewarding Experiences with Communities in Schools of Durham

May 11, 2017

Brittney serves as a half-time AmeriCorps member with Communities In Schools of Durham as a literacy tutor for the 21st Century After School Program. The program works with at-risk youth to decrease dropout rates by promoting effective academic support to the students.

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Serving in this position has been such a rewarding experience. It feels great to walk through the halls where students stop me to say hi or wait for me to ask if they’re having a good day–even if they are students that I do not even work with. Another rewarding aspect of my position is being able to witness the academic growth of my students and seeing the results of their hard work. One of the most important things for me is to let my students know that I will always be someone who believes in them and that it is possible for them to do anything that they put their minds to.

Serving in this position has also opened up some new aspirations for me along the way. I’ve never wanted to teach in a classroom, however now I enjoy being able to serve as a tutor and work alongside students to help them achieve their goal: academic success. During the school day I have a small load of students that I work with two times a week for 30 minutes. In the after school program, I work with a group of mostly 5th graders and a few 4th graders. We do academic coaching followed by educational activities. No day is the same when I come to work because each day I have a new goal in mind that involves finding some way to impact my students’ lives.

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Reading Makes Your Brain Grow

May 8, 2017

Emily serves as a reading tutor with America Reads. 

My service year as an AmeriCorps member has been an awesome experience. I had the opportunity to be an America Reads tutor at a local elementary school where I worked with three students individually. We mainly focused on literacy, which involved reading many, many books over the course of the year.

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I worked with the same three students throughout the school year, so I was able to see them improve in areas such as reading comprehension and vocabulary, or overall literacy. I loved my time here and though my tutees always worked hard, they did challenge me to present lessons in a unique and creative way. They really loved when lessons were entertaining and fun, so I was always trying out new literacy games and interactive lessons with them. Most of the time they would modify the game to make it more fun for themselves. Even though I was technically the tutor, my tutees were constantly making me think about things in a new way, and hence we were all learning from each other.

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I did my best to help them understand the importance of literacy and they too helped me understand. I for one will always remember that “reading is important because it makes your brain grow”.

Literacy Instruction through Sewing Skills

April 24, 2017

Erik serves as a full-time LiteracyCorps member at Reading Connections in Greensboro, NC. His responsibilities include ESOL and ABE volunteer tutor support, ESOL and ABE student instruction, new student intake, program development support, and instruction for the agency’s new IEL/CE grant-funded initiative to provide literacy instruction and job skills training for refugees and immigrants. Reading Connections is one of the largest adult literacy agencies in NC, and the outcomes far exceed federal benchmarks. R.C. provides programs for some of Guilford County’s neediest adults, e.g., the unemployed, disabled, ex-offenders reentering society, refugees and immigrants.

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Erik Hill

My service year has been a tremendously rewarding experience. I was offered a considerable amount of discretion when it came to choosing my responsibilities at Reading Connections, and I had a hard time saying “no” to much of anything. The most exciting endeavor has been the IEL/CE initiative to provide refugees and immigrants literacy instruction contextualized to the sewing industry. The program was developed in close coordination with industry leaders to ensure that instruction is aligned with–and contextualized to–the language, literacy, and workplace skills necessary for students to be desirable job candidates in a unique workplace.

I am one of two principal instructors, and after two initial instructional cycles (three and six weeks, respectively) several students, including a number of Congolese, Sudanese and Syrian refugees, found gainful employment as Industrial Sewers for various local employers after graduating from the program. As I am very often the first contact for many of our newly-resettled and –immigrated students, I take great pride in making them feel welcome and warmly-received. In this way, I am often a de facto brand ambassador for the agency, and I’d like to think that I am—at the same time—a de jure ambassador for our country and our shared values as a proud member of AmeriCorps.

New Responsibilities at HEF

April 12, 2017

Mia is a full time AmeriCorps member serving Helps Education Fund (HEF). Mia’s position is the Metropolitan Organization of Volunteers Empowering Students (MOVES) Coordinator. It is Helps Education Fund’s mission to connect research with practice and engages teachers, parents, and volunteers to improve student learning. 

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My time with Helps Education Fund (HEF) started in my Junior Year at NCSU. At first I was a volunteer implementing a literacy program. I kept volunteering until I graduated, and in that time I built strong bond with the children I was reading with as well as the executive director of HEF. When I applied to become the MOVES Coordinator, I wondered how that would impact my time spent with the kids I had been reading with, since I would be managing the volunteers now instead of being one myself.

I quickly came to realize that with more responsibility came even more opportunities to explore my strengths and weaknesses! For example, I’ve exceled in working with children, whereas I needed more training on how to best manage volunteers! I found myself expecting more out of volunteers than what should actually be expected. On the professional side of non-profits, I was welcomed into HEF’s board meetings and spent many work sessions seeing Elizabeth – the executive director- manage a non-profit. Not only was I able to still spend a great amount of my day with my kids and volunteers, but I also experienced all of the truly hard work and long hours it takes to run a non-profit. Throughout this process, I have gained an appreciation for non-profits and volunteers! Time is invaluable and it has been my pleasure to watch both my volunteers and students grow with the help of the HELPS program.

Because of my many years serving Helps Education Fund, it has now become my mission in life to make a difference in groups of children who need those extra resources and attention. And now I have and know of many caring people who can help me reach this dream.

Empowered by AmeriCorps

March 28, 2017

John Wolf serves as a part-time AmeriCorps member at Eno Valley Elementary for Communities in Schools of Durham’s (CIS) 21st Century after-school program. It is the mission of CIS to curb the school dropout rate by surrounding students of all ages with a community of support, and thus empower them to stay in school and achieve in life.

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I honestly had no idea what to expect when I first joined AmeriCorps. All I knew going in was that my days of wallowing in post-college unemployment were over. I was finally doing something productive again, and at the time that’s all that mattered. But now, with the year almost over, I can say that my time with AmeriCorps has been empowering and educational so far.

In the CIS after-school program, I am responsible for teaching and managing a class of 5th graders by helping them with their homework and guiding them through enrichment activities. Now as a disclaimer, I will mention that my background is in marketing and business administration, not in education. In fact, I had no experience managing children of any sort, much less in a classroom setting, before I started this program. Therefore, my first couple of days were rather rough. However, thanks in no small part to the support of the folks at CIS and my fellow AmeriCorps members, I have overcome many initial challenges.

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This is part of what has made my time with AmeriCorps being such an empowering experience. Most of my fellow AmeriCorps members can agree that mastering something new is a very rewarding experience. We see it when we work with our various learners every day. However, sometimes I think we can take it for granted when we master our own skills along side them, and how good that feels. I certainly can look back and see how much I have grown from my experiences here, and seeing this makes me excited about the what the future will bring.

Another Language Gifts an Other Self

March 21, 2017

Jake serves as a full-time AmeriCorps member with the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program at the Durham Literacy Center (DLC). Each semester, this program provides classes in English to over 200 adult students, including immigrants, visiting scholars, and refugees.

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Inspired by his experiences at the DLC, Jake has written a poem that explores the transformative process of learning a new language.

 

Another Language Gifts an Other Self

                            L1

A smile, the soil, springs the word
They hear, then utter, first.
For some, its strangeness shames
The tongue, or blossoms blushing;
These briskly pluck a native name
Soon shared for each to taste.

                           L2

Some hail from a home
Where safety is homeless,
But homelessness still
Is not safe. Yet all have left
Mansions of mother
Tongues: all of whose rooms
One can never visit.

                          L3

Do you. . .here. . .belong?
Peers from those unknown
Strain to read the song
Etched in your skin’s tone;
Transpose it;. . .speak your sweet
Favored phrases
Till, entrained, your beat
Blazes.

                        L4

Deep night’s prestige
Is blind completeness;
Will you devote
Gloaming hours of thought
In nomad symbols
To gain your seeing
Own? As they rove
Your growing shade. . .

                         L5

My words are tesserae
And I am free
To often change
To often rearrange
Them; and so
Remake—
To be,
Rebreak. . .
Mosaic me.

 

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My AVID Service Year Thus Far

March 16, 2017

Serving with the AVID program of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has been a very unique and interesting experience thus far. From what I have discussed with other LiteracyCorps members about the various programs that we serve in, mine is pretty different in the challenges and rewards that it offers. Instead of spending a significant amount of my time in one office with learners coming to me for help, I go to them in their various classrooms across the school district. A typical service day consists of me bouncing from class to class and school to school with the goal of assisting as many AVID teachers as I can in an efficient manner.

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John Wright

 

These nomadic and ever-changing service days have many interesting benefits, but also some drawbacks of course. As someone who has never been much for offices and routine, this atypical service environment suits me well. I am a fan of how much this keeps me on my toes. One hour I could be working with a large group of rambunctious 6th graders that are still trying to learn the AVID tutorial process, the next I could be in a high school trying to coax a teenager into not being too cool to present what they have been working on to their group, and everything in between. It truly is fascinating getting to serve with such a wide spectrum of ages and getting to see a large portion of the k-12 public school system from the inside.

This exploration of the inner-workings of the public school system is really what drew me to this position in the first place. As someone with aspirations to become an educator one day, this service year offered a great opportunity to get into the classroom and really see what it takes to enter what is in my opinion one of the most demanding careers out there. I have developed an immense amount of respect for what these teachers do day in and day out. Even in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, which ranks number one in many metrics in the state and the region and is comparatively well funded as far as public education goes, these teachers go through so much to make sure that their students are set up for success in their future. After viewing all of this so far in my service year, I truly have seen how much need there is from all of us to advocate for the great institution that public education is. 

Critical Service Learning at Duke University

March 13, 2017

Jean-Patrick Grillet is the NCLC member in the Duke Program in Education. He is tasked with helping coordinate the Partners for Success service learning program, wherein over 150 Duke Undergraduates tutor in one of fifteen partner sites for two hours each week. Throughout the semester Jean-Patrick assesses reflections written by the students and leads seminars on becoming better tutors.

 

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John-Patrick Grillet

 

Serving as the AmeriCorps member at the Duke Program in Education has afforded me unique access to several of the institution’s departments and initiatives, especially as they relate to service learning. From my first day at Duke, we have tried to think critically and intentionally about the work we are asking our undergraduates to do. In fact, I was surprised at how critical my colleagues were of their own program, but I soon realized that tough criticism is necessary for meaningful improvement. Is tutoring for two hours a week over the course of a semester actually doing the community any good? Are we modeling the “First, do no harm” adage to our learners (as adapted from the Hippocratic Oath and commonly spoken around the Program in Education office)?

On the surface, service learning looks like a charitable situation in which all parties win. Duke students enter a school or community center, share their wealth of skills and knowledge with an apparently struggling young student, and then that student does better in school. The Duke students might learn a bit more about Durham and its people, but the important thing here is that they took time out of their busy schedules to help a student who would otherwise fall behind, and they feel really good about it. Right?

Not quite. Civic engagement (service learning typically falls under this umbrella) programs have become a popular attraction in American universities, usually taking the form of exotic 2-8 week trips to remote parts of the world. Students build houses, wells, and trails or teach English and basic computer skills to locals who we assume had less access and mobility before the arrival of the university program. No doubt, millions of people around the world could benefit from the significant capital and human resources at Duke’s disposition, but what is the long term goal here? If Duke brings students to Ghana, and in one summer can build enough houses for a whole community, build a well and supply enough technology to jump start a local economy, then they would not really have to go back the following year. Or, fewer students would need to go since so many of the root issues had actually been addressed.

In the Program in Education, we do not send our students to other countries to tutor children. Instead, we send them into one of our local partner sites, ranging from elementary schools to GED preparation programs. This started when the education faculty here at Duke realized an unsettling truth: this elite university stood in the middle of a city with declining high school graduation rates, and did little to nothing to help improve the academic achievement of Durham children. Obviously, there was a need for extra support, so we started sending Duke Undergraduates as tutors. Smart kids take care of struggling ones. Eventually graduation rates would go up and there would be less of a need for our tutors. The goal should be to close the loop, if we really want Durham graduation rates to reach 100%.

This is problematic because our solutions are very short term. Our students will form a relationship with their learners over the course of a semester, then will likely never see that student again—they will likely never see that student graduate high school or go to college. So how do we know the job is done? This is where we start to run into some inconsistencies. Is it more important for our Duke students to learn, or for them to serve? In other words, should we stick to this short term model and ensure that we have plenty of tutoring for our Duke students every semester, or should we put our students to work on more long term solutions that might cause the service learning program to self-destruct in the most positive way possible? In tackling these questions, we are starting to think of new service learning programs that would help students address bigger, broader issues in the field of education.

One solution is establishing a relationship with the local school board, so that students could work as interns or be an official advocate for one of our partner sites at school board meetings. Another would be to work with charters or Durham Public Schools to develop service learning curricula for local students themselves, thereby establishing a system to combat other harmful systems. Right now, we have a task force of undergraduates working to develop a food waste-focused service learning curriculum at a local charter school. They hope to reduce waste and increase food literacy through the creation of a composting program and community garden.

It has been easy to identify the “service” component of these programs, but our undergraduates are supposed to be learning too—and more than just about the fact that there are children in need. Similar to our AmeriCorps program, we know that our service learning programs will not immediately fix society’s gravest ills. However, we can use the short-term tendency of our system to spread knowledge and awareness so that our students choose to pursue more ethical professions. As we recruit and manage volunteers for tutoring and other service opportunities, we can simultaneously develop long term strategies and tactics for a more sustained, systemic impact. We can expose our students, volunteers and learners to the underlying forces causing those problems, so that they might make a career out of fixing them. It is up to us as programmers and facilitators to create opportunities that will change the way our students see the world, rather than just allowing them to observe it passively from a secure, comfortable position.

In an effort to help our students think more intentionally about their service, we require four written reflections per semester as well as two group reflections. We use these spaces to bring up the uncomfortable questions students might have about their service. And unlike in a quick summer trip, we are in constant contact with our partner sites to make sure that we meet their needs in the same areas over the course of several years. We also maintain a database of past tutors to invite them back in following semesters. At the Program in Education we are seeking to create new, innovative service learning programs to address the city’s most pressing education issues. In the meantime, we will be making sure that our students are aware of the problems in service learning, so that they can be more conscious tutors and more engaged citizens.