Each semester, AmeriCorps collects “Great Stories” from our members throughout the region about their experiences assisting regional youth in their classrooms.
This month’s story comes from Erin Dooley , reflecting on her experience during the Fall 2017 semester:
On my very first day of service, I was sent to 5th grade to sit with a student who just could not help but be disruptive in Science or in any other class. This student happened to have Autism Spectrum Disorder. My school had learned that I had experience with students on the Spectrum and was eager to give me the opportunity to help with their EC students. After years at Camp Royall, a camp for people with Autism, as well as a lifetime of lived experience with my brother Thomas, I was honestly excited to spend time in an area I felt comfortable in.
When I entered the classroom, I could tell immediately who it was that I was supposed to help redirect. He was out of his seat and interrupting the teacher every other word. She was reasonably irritated. I did not know anything about him. I hadn’t seen an IEP and I had no idea what reinforcers to use. I was surprised that I was nervous to approach him. I felt like a stranger with no right to tell him to sit down when he clearly felt very sure of himself standing up out of his seat. I had a hard time working up the courage to approach this child but eventually he was sent out into the hallway and I followed.
I did not have the opportunity to introduce myself before he was talking my ear off about video games, swords, and his absolute disdain for Language Arts. I tried to steer the conversation toward his behavior in Science class but I eventually caved and started to ask him about what he enjoyed, school-related or not. I learned that in his spare time, he collected sticks and rocks. He did not have any friends. He was a skilled artist, who’s work mostly had to do with machines and monsters. He loved his grandmother, science, and being mischievous.
After about 15 minutes, we finally made our way back to class and got half way through a work sheet on heat transfer. Since this funny first impression, I have gotten to become a sort of friend to him. I have him for our crew time. He does not enjoy that class at all and is very vocal about it, but every day he shows up and is engaged even if he is complaining. While his attitude could arguably be better, I think everyone acknowledges that he is an endearing student. He may claim to hate Language Arts, but he was as upset as anyone else when Esperanza’s father was murdered at the end of chapter 2 of Esperanza Rising. He was actively involved in campaigning for the crew name “Rainbow Tacos,” even when he butted heads with his peers. What I think is most impressive though, is that he has many friends now. He has friends he shares his drawings with. He has friends he collects sticks with at recess. He even has friends like me who he trusts to hold his collection when he has to return to class.