Each quarter, AmeriCorps collects “Great Stories” from our 18 members throughout the region about their experiences assisting regional youth in their classrooms.
This month’s story comes from AmeriCorps member Andrew White:
Since I began this year of service, my number one goal has been to create a lasting impression on the students that I work with. I want to do more than be just a temporary role model for them. I want to make a difference—and this is something I have not entirely been sure how to do.
Teachers come and go, and while students might really like me during my time with them, how do I foster a positive change in these students that will persist long after I have gone?
The students at this school are all so unique in their own way that there really is no set-in-stone way to accomplish this. What it came down to for me was to simply be myself while being a leader for these kids as well as someone they could trust.
During this year of service I have worked primarily with kids in kindergarten through fourth grade. I wanted to work with the younger kids because I am better at interacting with them, I know how they operate and it was easy for me to create safe and fun environment for them. I have shared some great memories with the younger classes and I know that I have been a positive influence on them this year. But they are so young that it is hard to determine how much of what I am doing will truly stick with them long term. This is why, despite my limited time with the middle schoolers, I wanted to try my hardest to connect with some of them.
The difficult part was that—unlike the little kids—I couldn’t just make a funny face or do a silly dance and expect them to laugh. For the older kids I had to really connect with them to earn their trust.
There was one seventh grader in particular who I saw a good amount relative to all the other middle schoolers. She was an aftercare regular and I often passed by her in the hallway. She was very shy and somewhat introverted, but also a kind and intelligent student. Whenever I would see her, I would always say hello and sometimes try to have a conversation .
Our conversations were always short and sweet and I never lingered because I did not want to put her out of her comfort zone, I just wanted to let her know I was there and that I was someone she could talk to if she ever needed anything. It went this way for the majority of the year. Sometimes it was hard to tell whether or not she enjoyed my company. Often times, when I was talking with other groups of middle schoolers—whether I was giving them advice or just making small talk—she would sit with us but never join in. I figured she must like what we were talking about or enjoyed my company even if she was not directly involved. I was happy with this even if I could not always directly engage her. It made me happy to see her being part of the group.
One day in aftercare she overheard a conversation I was having with one of her peers about one of my favorite shows. She immediately got up from where she was sitting and ran over, grabbed my arm and gave me a high five. She told me that she also really liked that show. For a while we talked about it and other things we were interested in. It was nice to finally have a full-length conversation with her that she was totally engaged in.
A couple days went by and I eventually saw her in aftercare again. She came over to where I was and told me that she had something she wanted to give me. She pulled a piece of paper and handed it to me. On it was an amazing drawing of one of the characters from the show we both watched. It was, hands down, one of the most awesome drawings I have ever received from any of the students. I was sure to let her know that because I could not stop talking about how cool I thought it was.
When I went to put it away in my backpack I noticed there was a note written on the back, it read: “Thank you for being here this year. You really made a difference.”