I found out my placement with the Peace Corps in May 2014, which was about a year after I applied. At that time I was employed with AmeriCorps with City Year, a non-profit that keeps kids in school and on track to graduation. AmeriCorps is a civil society program supported by the US government that engages people in community service.
From September 2013 to June 2014, as part of a team of 15 Corps members, a team leader, and a program manager, I had partnered with a middle school in the south Bronx to increase student attendance and improve behavior and English Language Arts (ELA) and math course performance. During the school day I was paired with a teacher and worked as a tutor and mentor to struggling students in English as a Second Language (ESL) and ELA 6th grade classes and after school as an Environment, Expressive Arts, and ESL Homework Help Teacher. I also planned events and initiatives around literacy at the school like a Family Game Night with ELA and math games, Poetry Def Jam, and an ELA and Math Study Lounge before the big Common Core tests.
City Year was a very demanding job. I worked from 7:30am to 6pm every day and didn’t much personal time or money to live on in NYC. At the beginning of the year, the students were constantly testing my limits, and it wasn’t fun. When I was giving directions they wouldn’t pay attention and would talk and run around the room. I was surprised by how much bullying and cursing there was. “Bitch,” “shut the fuck up,” “you’re ugly,” “your mom is a whore”… But, by January, I learned how to manage behavior and create engaging curriculum and lesson plans, and I started to really enjoy my time with my students. They went from being “the students” to “my students.” They also opened up to me as they knew what to expect from me and that I was there to stay. I saw progress in their academic performance and social-emotional development!
One of my students never brought a pencil or notebook to class at the beginning of the year. Over the course of the year we focused on that and note taking in class. Another student had difficulty understanding texts so he let me work with him on techniques for reading comprehension. I also helped many students write their first essays, which was so exciting! One of my students essays was even displayed on my teacher’s bulletin board!
My students were not bitter or sour anymore, but sweet. “Good morning, Ms. Rosana.” “How was your weekend, Ms. Rosana?” “Where were you yesterday, Ms. Rosana? Were you sick? I missed you!” “How was your day Ms. Rosana?”
I am really glad that I did City Year before the Peace Corps because it prepared me by giving me further experience working on a diverse team, in a school setting, and with children and youth. I was also exposed to the sticky issues of poverty, race, violence, and immigration in America and able to engage with them face to face. The population I worked with was low-income, Hispanic, and immigrant. I highly recommend City Year for recent high school or college graduates interested in community service and education. Having experience working in summer camps, after school programs, or schools is necessary to do the job well.
I am grateful to my City Year team, team leader, and program manager who supported me throughout the year and helped me make what I think is a significant impact on the school and kids! I could go on and on about City Year but this blog is about my Peace Corps adventure! I am sure that this experience and others will come up later in the blog in reference.