The Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project (SOH) is a dynamic community partnership which has developed an evidence-based model of tutoring intervention fueled by impassioned AmeriCorps members and committed community volunteers. SOH began in 1995 as a civic journalism project that developed into a unique collaboration of the United Way of Dane County, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), and Centro Hispano and is also supported by the Sun Prairie Area School District.
Its mission is to provide literacy tutoring support to improve the academic achievement of kindergarten through fifth grade students. Since 1998 Schools of Hope has received funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service, first as an AmeriCorps VISTA project and since 2007 as an AmeriCorps program. In 2016-17, 21 AmeriCorps members served elementary school sites in Madison and Sun Prairie. Members serve as tutor coordinators in designated high-need schools, directing their considerable energy and talent toward advancing literacy achievement by matching skilled volunteers with students, providing direct tutoring service themselves, and helping low-income families build home library collections.
Our World, Our Community
Nuestro Mundo Elementary School
When I walked into the doors of Nuestro Mundo Community School, I truly did not know what I was getting myself into. As a non-Spanish speaker, walking into a school called “Nuestro Mundo” or “Our World” I wondered how I was going to fit into this new world of DLI education without letting self doubt get in the way of my success.
Since I squashed a premature goal of becoming a doctor my sophomore year of college, education has also been the professional field that has intrigued me the most. After graduation I submerged myself into as many areas of education as possible as I worked with Kindergarteners through high schoolers. While it was exciting getting to see so many sides of education, I never felt I had established a home base, a community, or many real, lasting relationships with the students I worked for. At the beginning of the year when I accepted a part time position for another program at Nuestro Mundo, I knew I had to find a way to be a part of the school full time. That’s when Schools of Hope stumbled into the picture, and I am so grateful it did.
I joined the SOH team a little later than most and friendships had already formed between many members. The school year had already begun so I had to fight through the awkwardness of the delayed introduction to teachers. I had to swallow my insecurities to put myself out there, which was much easier once I realized all the good that I could accomplish for the school once I did.
By serving as a tutor coordinator through Schools of Hope I was finally able to feel part of a school community and with that, I have been able to truly connect and establish myself as a valued member of a team. Looking back on how this year has progressed, in each aspect of my service, the relationships that I have made have by far had the biggest impact on me. On a new tutor’s first day, relationship building with the student is something I stress above all things, but you might not believe its importance until you see it yourself. It’s different with each kid, but in their own ways, they will show you how much you mean to them. Whether it’s a look of understanding, or the face they make when you walk in the classroom, or the excitement they have to tell you a story, or the pride on their face when they say hi to you personally in the hallways on the way to lunch, they will show you that you matter to them. Let me tell you, the feeling you get in those moments, make all the annoying things that happen in between so worth it.
Claire is a 2013 graduate of UW-Madison with degrees in Psychology and Communication Arts. After her service she plans on teaching abroad in Thailand before pursuing a degree in education.
Service to Others Through Balance
Mendota Elementary School
Serving two years with the same AmeriCorps project provided me a unique chance to see service through a more experienced lens. As a literacy tutor and coordinator, I have had many emotional ups and downs. My relationships with the students I tutored my first year were the highlight of my experience. However, I remember writing my first reflection and feeling fixated on the lives of my students because I cared so deeply for them. In order to balance my love of service and people with my personal life during my second year of service, I wanted to shake things up.
An opportunity to make a change presented itself, and I made an important decision. I chose to serve at a different site. Instead of returning to my amazing west side school and south side after school center, I was placed in Madison’s north side at Mendota Elementary. Seventy-seven percent of the scholars attending Mendota Elementary are of low income, the second highest rate in the Madison Metropolitan School District. I was in a new part of town, at a new school, with a new staff and school population.
In the beginning, I second-guessed my decisions, going to a new school, serving a second year. Adjusting to the newness of everything was harder than I had remembered. However, I was reminded to give it time. While I waited, I started going to yoga classes with a fellow AmeriCorps teammate and have been practicing ever since. I signed up for a web designer course online. These discoveries were made because I took the time to care for myself, something that I hadn’t had energy for during my first year.
At my school, I got involved with the reading intervention team, implemented sight word practice for students in need, and saw the positive opportunities Mendota created for their scholars. By taking time for myself, not only was I feeling better, I was better able to serve my site. In my final months at Mendota, I was so happy to be working with my students each day. I saw the light in them, and I honored that light with high expectations and respect.
After two years of serving with AmeriCorps, I have become a part of my local community, gained invaluable job skills, and learned the value of selfcare. I have friends in the corporate world who tell me how much they would love to provide direct service to the community, as opposed to working their day job. I can say that I have performed direct service, and I’m more confident about who I am and my future. I have thought about my students from my first year of service often and miss them, but I know that I best served my community by filling its highest needs.
During her second year of service, Kylee discovered a passion for yoga and technology. She hopes to pursue web development as a career and eventually help others discover tech! She plans to stay in the Madison community with her husband and cat for the next few years.
So Much More Than Just A Gap Year
Glenn Stephens Elementary School
What started off as a way of taking a year off before graduate or medical school has transformed into a life changing experience for me. Even though I was a Biology major in college, my love for public service and education coupled with my two years of volunteering at a middle school drew me towards Schools of Hope. So when I was offered the position of tutor coordinator by our directors, I was elated. I was happy that my service allowed me to stay within Madison, while giving me the opportunity to give back to the community that had played a pivotal role in making me the person I am today.
My year at Glenn Stephens started off slow. Even though I was one of the first team members to start tutoring students early on in the year, I had only a handful of tutees. I began tutoring these students on a daily basis to make time pass by faster. But the realization quickly dawned upon me that I had a lot of free time on my hands. Hence, I helped out around the school as much as possible. Now, I realize that it was the best move to build strong interpersonal professional relationships and trust. By the beginning of October, the principal called me in for a meeting to discuss my tutees and my role in Stephens as a tutor coordinator. I was nervous but also excited because this was our first official meeting. However, nothing could have prepared me for what Sarah, our principal wanted to discuss.
Sarah loved the fact that I tutored the few tutees I had on a regular basis and she believed that it had a higher impact in increasing my students’ proficiency levels. So she proposed a new format of tutoring, where the AmeriCorps member tutors the students daily with a personalized curriculum set either by the teacher or a member of the school staff for six to eight weeks. Five months into the program, I have learned more about tutoring than I could’ve ever imagined. I currently tutor up to nineteen students on a daily basis.
As a tutor coordinator, I also was expected to recruit community tutors for Glenn Stephens. This was something I had not expected to be such a challenge. My initial team comprised of seven tutors and I was worried that all of the students who could use tutoring in our school weren’t being served. After actively recruiting for months (a still ongoing process), Stephens can now boast of a highly dedicated team 21 tutors. However, my work here is barely done.
I am blessed to be a part of such a hardworking and wonderful team dedicated to serving our communities. My experience has made me a stronger person and has renewed my determination to become a contributing citizen. Thanks AmeriCorps for giving me this opportunity.
Anwesha Chaudhuri is a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She spent most of her childhood in India. In her spare time, she likes to sing, cook and read. She wants to pursue her dream of becoming a pediatrician and opening a free clinic in India.
Second Year in AmeriCorps
Kennedy Elementary School
My second year as a member in the Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project, has continued to open my eyes to the lives of those living all around Dane County. Having moved to Madison two years ago to start my AmeriCorps experience, my perspective of Madison didn’t venture far from the colorful shops on State Street or the beauty of the two lakes surrounding the downtown. I was placed at a school in unknown territory – far on the East side, closer to the county’s edge then I had ever ventured before. What greeted me was hope, determination and compassion for every student that walked into their school. The relationships I formed with both students and staff inspired me to serve another year, to continue the great work Schools of Hope does.
am in awe of all the things that public schools do. I have observed the countless late night hours that staff puts in – for many students the school is their doctor, their psychiatrist, their meal provider, and in many instances the only place they feel safe. Kennedy does such an excellent job meeting the needs of each child and has the help of a wonderful community. I have known the community volunteers for the past two years, and their dedication to the students is amazing. One of my volunteers recently had her first grader dictate a story to her, and the volunteer made it into a book. “Look you are an author!”, she exclaimed to the beaming little girl. Each child we work with is filled with so much potential and it is our job to find that potential and shape it into confidence. Sometimes all it takes is encouragement and one on one attention to help a child meet their goals. My second year as an AmeriCorps member has continued my respect and admiration for public schools. It has affected what I want to pursue in law school, and it has provided me with wonderful memories, and experiences.
Corinne Coburn graduated from Lafayette College in 2014. She is currently serving her second year as an AmeriCorps member in Madison, WI. She will be attending law school in the fall.
A Year of Reflection: My Journey to Pursuing Teacher Education
Lindbergh Elementary School
For me, serving with the Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project was years in the making. Though I initially approached this year as a way to match my remaining studies in graduate school with experience “in the field”, ultimately, this year of service has been much more than that. It has confirmed for me a path that I started down many, many years ago.
I had always loved learning, teaching, and reading. I would play “school” almost daily as a child, lining up my dolls on the stairs of our basement, assigning homework, and “teaching” them from in front of a child-sized chalkboard which hung on the wall. I would sit for hours at a time reading every book I could get my hands on. Over time, my fascination with educating myself and others transformed into a deep desire to study the people and places around the world in order to increase cultural and linguistic understanding. After earning my Bachelor’s degree, I knew that I wanted to combine studying languages and cultures, helping, and constantly learning in my future career, but I wasn’t quite sure how. It was not until serving with Schools of Hope that all of the pieces came together.
I started my term of service during the second week of the school year – a few weeks after all of my teammates. At first, I was nervous; it seemed like everyone already had so much of a head start both in terms of getting to know each other and their schools. However, what I experienced in those first few weeks amazed me. Every single person on my team was willing to reach out and provide support and advice. With the help of the staff at my school, I quickly felt as though I belonged at Lindbergh. Once I started tutoring, I knew that I had made the right decision.
Each one of the many students I tutor has a different story, different struggles, and different joys. Each one of these students is unique. What unites them, however, is their unrelenting positive attitude and determination. It is inspiring to watch and support their successes in recognizing the letters of the alphabet, reading their first sentence, or finishing their first chapter book. While these successes are important, I’ve learned that tutoring is a two-way learning process – not only am I able to see them grow as students and as individuals but I, too, have grown as an educator and as a person. I have been so privileged to work with each of these students.
Throughout my year of service, I went from being unsure of where I was headed, to pursuing the career I was meant to do. Because of my experience with Schools of Hope, I intend to earn teacher licensure in Elementary Education as well as ESL/Bilingual Education so that young students will have a supporting, caring, knowledgeable, and linguistically and culturally responsive teacher.
Jocelyn is currently a Master’s student in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Two Years of Schools of Hope
Gompers Elementary School
I returned for a second year with Schools of Hope for a lot of reasons. The most significant of them was for the kids. In my first year as a member I saw the students I tutor grow in so many ways-yet I knew there was a lot of room for improvement. By staying for a second year, I’ve seen my same students improve and succeed beyond expectations. As I reflect on two years of service, I think of the changes my students have gone through. Carson knows all of his sight word flash cards. Anna can regulate her body and emotions easier. Maxwell always tries his hardest and has learned to be an optimist. Ryan has learned to love school and love learning; these accomplishments (and many more) are shining examples of why I have served with AmeriCorps.
These small, tiny moments of success are hard to hold onto in the stressful and chaotic environment of public schools. Teachers work tirelessly and devote themselves to their students. They hold the honor of “unsung heroes” in our society. Administrators stretch budgets to maximize resources and materials. Volunteers give their time and energy to their community. All of these people come together with one goal in mind: Let’s help children. My time in Schools of Hope has taught me to question our expectations of students and to challenge myself to truly consider “what is best for our students?” Overall, my experience in Schools of Hope has led me on a brand-new career path and instilled a new professional goal for me: Let’s help children.
Abigail Dreps graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May 2014. This is her second year serving with Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project in Madison, Wisconsin. Next year, she plans to attend graduate school to become a licensed School Psychologist.
Invest Your Time, Tutor A Child
Falk Elementary School
“INVEST YOUR TIME, TUTOR A CHILD”, that’s the Elementary Schools of Hope catch phrase to stimulate the interest of the community in Madison’s public schools. An investment it surely is. What I have realized over my two years as an AmeriCorps member serving elementary schools in Madison, Wisconsin through Schools of Hope is that we all need to make an investment in a sound and effective public education for all. Whether that investment manifests itself as volunteering or working in a school, as an elected representative involved in school issues, or simply as a voter and taxpayer, investment in the education of children is and should be our highest priority.
If it’s even possible, on reflection, I have become more political serving in AmeriCorps these past two years and that’s really saying something. I see where public education is failing many children. I see how elected officials are failing the people they represent. I see how corporate America is undermining all public services, including, tragically, public education. It has been a painful experience in some ways but there is hope.
My hope comes from the neighbors and friends of the public schools who know of the need and donate their time to address it. Hope comes from the children themselves who never give up. Hope comes from non-profits like Schools of Hope which does tremendous work to put AmeriCorps members in as many schools as possible within the limits of its grant. I will continue to invest my time beyond my AmeriCorps service because that investment will pay off in perhaps just baby steps for individual children but will pay off in huge dividends to me personally.
Deborah Elsas is a mostly retired 67 year old Madison resident who attended public schools throughout her years as a student. She has two adult sons of whom she is immensely proud. She lives with a dog, Charlie, and a cat, Opie. Her hobbies include film and TV and she watches too much of the latter. She is also interested in books of all kinds. She does as much yoga and Zumba as budget and physical limits allow. Deborah hopes to learn meditation in her final retirement stage of life and to travel to warm places in the winters, again, as budget permits.
Frank Allis Elementary School
Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project
Friends, memories, community
Everyone brought together for a single reason, a single purpose –
A year of your life; 1700 plus hours of service hours
Trainings, tutoring, team work
“Do I actually know what I’m doing?”
Continuous on-going support.
The struggles are a challenge.
Feelings of confusion, frustration, and being exhausted
Tough tutoring sessions and coordination issues
Some days wondering “Why am I here?”
The kiddos make it worth it.
All of the hugs, smiles, and encouragement.
That moment the light goes on; something has clicked!
Pure happiness in their smiles.
Building inspiration and showing you that “You can!”
Leaders are born and futures are found.
Your service term is what you make it to be.
Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project
Sarah Fonger is a second year AmeriCorps member who served her first term in Washington state. She is looking forward to continuing working with youth and pursuing a career in education after her AmeriCorps service is over.
Inspired by Relationships
Aldo Leopold Elementary School
Something that has stuck with me ever since Leopold’s February professional development day is the TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story.” She talks about how dangerous it is to make assumptions and judgments about an individual without knowing their full story. Every day I am exposed to a wide variety of tutors, school staff and students. They vary in age, race, gender, income level, personality type, and the list goes on and on. The “Danger of a Single Story,” inspires me to never believe just one story. To learn more about my tutors’ backgrounds. To listen to school staff share their experiences and challenges. To get to know my students as scholars, athletes, artists, jokesters and community members.
And what a joy that process has been.
I am constantly amazed by the patience, love and inspiration that Leopold school staff give their students every single day. They are shaping our community’s future leaders and doing so with a great deal of effort, passion and strength. I also am extremely impressed by the community tutors at Leopold. Each week they return to our school to build relationships and foster a love of reading with their students. From eager UW students to experienced retirees, Leopold’s community tutors inspire me to remain an active member of my community and use my free time to serve others.
Now, my students. My day flies by when I have a full day of tutoring. The day becomes a blur of books, laughter, high-fives and “Hi Miss Alison!”s. But even when the day goes by fast, I cherish the thirty minutes I spend with each student. I love hearing about their weekend, pets, new toys, favorite foods, thoughts on life and funny stories from recess. I delight in watching them learn new words, discover their favorite author and gain self-confidence.
Each session also has its challenges. Sometimes I barter with students, “Ok if you read one page, then I will read the next page.” Other times I struggle to stay positive like when Zarena* told me she only has one book at home (the book I gave her from Schools of Hope) or when Aliyah* announced she was moving for the sixth time in her life. But my students are more than their hardships. And it has been an honor to walk alongside them this school year.
*Names were changed for students’ privacy.
Alison is originally from Rockville, MD and currently lives in Madison, WI. She graduated from Penn State with a BS in International Development in 2014 and will pursue her Masters in International Public Affairs at UW-Madison starting in fall 2016. Alison loves traveling, cooking and exploring her new city.
“Good Morning Miss Lesli”
Cesár Chávez Elementary School
“Good Morning Miss Lesli”
Those are my favorite words to hear,
From all the little friends I made this year.
A tutor not a teacher!
Was my constant reminder.
“Miss Lesli, can we keep reading forever?”
The joy that my students get from reading,
Was what made this service so fulfilling.
When they saw themselves improve,
They had some smiles that nothing could remove.
The teacher made me feel appreciated,
When with our tutors they cooperated.
It seemed like a dream
To be able to rely on a great team.
A break from full time school was what I was needing
To help me see where my life was leading.
September scared of not knowing
No telling of where this was going.
But by March now I see,
This was the best decision for me.
Lesli was born in Puerto Rico and after some schooling moved to Madison to find a whole new world when it came to school and in a different language. She grew up learning the importance of reading and how much tutors make a difference. She enjoys reading fiction, photography, and coloring books. She is currently considering another year at Schools of Hope.
I Am Not Prepared
Thoreau Elementary School
Over this past year, I have realized two very important things:
- There is no possible way to be completely prepared for everything.
- It is more than okay to not be completely prepared for everything.
AmeriCorps has played a major role in helping me accept and learn from these two points. When applying for Schools of Hope, I liked to think that I had a fairly accurate idea of how my year of service was going to play out. My previous experience with students led me to believe that the Tutor Coordinator role was one I’d be able to fit into quite easily. However, once training started, I began to have second thoughts. Some of the responsibilities were ones that I was not expecting, and I was concerned that I would have trouble completing tasks correctly and efficiently. Though my coordinators were very reassuring, I walked into Thoreau Elementary on the first day of school worried that I would be unsuccessful.
Thankfully, within a few weeks my perspective had made a drastic change. I did not know what to expect every morning, and I was alright with that. I even learned to enjoy this aspect of my position. Schools are a complex place overflowing with character, events, and dedicated individuals. This AmeriCorps journey has helped me to gain confidence in my abilities and skill sets as I walk through the hallways. I have become much better at thinking on my feet in order to problem solve and think of solutions that benefit everyone. Getting to know the wonderful people who live and volunteer in the community surrounding Thoreau has been so uplifting, and I will always be thankful for the insight and kind words they have given me. In addition to meeting such wonderful tutors, I had had the opportunity to serve a passionate school staff and student body. Though I could never predict what dilemmas were going to occur during the day, something that always remained constant was the sense of togetherness that connects everyone at Thoreau Elementary. I have been able to witness teachers and support members putting all of their efforts into helping their students succeed, and students with smiles on their faces after discovering all they can accomplish. My AmeriCorps experience has helped solidify my decision to continue in the education field. I may not know what I will have to face day-by-day, but do believe that my future career will consist of helping students see their potential and guiding them towards overall wellness.
Maddie Kelly grew up in the small town of Markesan, WI with her parents and four younger siblings. After finishing high school she achieved her goal of becoming a Badger and attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison graduating in 2015 with a bachelor’s in Human Development and Family Studies and minors in Global Health and Religious Studies. She is currently enrolled in Concordia University Wisconsin’s School Counseling Program, and is excited to continue with these courses with the end result being a career as a School Counselor.
Surviving the Unknown
Hawthorne Elementary School
I hadn’t walked into an elementary school since my own attendance years ago. There was no need – my own education was naively my sole priority and the anticipated chaos was uninviting. I had a stark vision of what the inside would look like: flying spitballs, earsplitting screams, and malignant germ infestation. I felt the need to practice my army crawl as my go-to survival technique. On day one of service, I walked the hallway in trepidation, prepared to duck upon first sight of a soaring paper plane. Luckily, I landed safely in my office where I was welcomed graciously by warm smiles and a “Welcome to Hawthorne” snack box. I knew this was the place to be – I was comfortably safe and satiated.
I quickly discovered that some of the children didn’t feel the same. Life wasn’t fit for their survival. During tutoring sessions, I would hear the angry growl of children’s stomachs and smell the funk from last night’s missed bath. I would notice children’s sunken eyes and wide yawns after learning they had spent the previous night cramped in a tight hotel room or noisy shelter with their growing family. I would listen intently to children’s stories of Dad who once left home for prison or Mom who never found time to read stories to them. I knew then that I needed to begin juggling multiple hats. My service became so much more than tutoring kids all day – I grew into a mentor, a counselor, and a lasting role model. My daily goal became to find resources to help meet these children’s basic needs, in addition to assuring that they were exposed to the best education I had the power of providing as a tutor. I tutored my tail off. And I believe it made a difference.
Six months into the year’s service, I was presented with this reflection assignment. Only now am I truly humbled by the realization that there has been substantial progress academically, socially, and emotionally among each of my tutees. Nothing trumps witnessing the pride of children who can’t wait to show me their improved spelling test score or read their new joke book with me. Children who once rarely spoke during our sessions, now can’t keep their lips sealed. Even minor observations like students looking my way less frequently when they stumble over a word shows the confidence they’ve gained in their reading abilities. Most importantly, I appreciate being a part of a movement that helps to fill a piece of the financial void in these children’s lives. Giving them the means to survive on a broader scale by providing donated books and school supplies is empowering for the child, their family, and myself. Any project that can affect that many lives in such drastic ways is worth being a part of.
Now I look forward to my strolls through the hallway. They are always met with high fives, hugs, smiles, and pictures to put in my office. I no longer fear these children and these children no longer fear education. We all survived, and we all feel confident enough to help spread our techniques so others can do the same.
Simone Lawrence is a graduate of Hampton University and hopes to continue close work with kids in the future.
Justice, Optimism, and Hope
Huegel Elementary School
Before school started, at the staff orientation, my assigned school’s principal wanted us to reflect on the values that we would weave in throughout the school year, values that would motivate us to be better educators, through the acronym JOY: Justice, Optimism, and You Pick. The ‘you pick’ value that I have learned throughout the year has been ‘Hope.’ I have learned hope through my constant interactions with teachers, support staff, students, volunteers, and fellow Schools of Hope members. During trainings, we learn a lot about problems and issues within public schools such as the lack of proper support for teachers and the achievement gap. However, working at a public school has helped instill in me a deep respect and admiration for teachers and support staff who dedicate their entire careers to help students be the best learners they can be. It has also taught me the importance of community partnership and support for an effective school system. The Schools of Hope volunteers are one of the most important assets in the school community and I have been very fortunate to interact and support them this year.
Tenzin recently graduated from Carleton College (Northfield, Minnesota) and coordinated the Schools of Hope program at Huegel Elementary School during the 2015-16 school year. She is considering a career in non-profit organizations.
C.H. Bird Elementary School
Elementary education was never a field I considered, however, when I became a mother that interest was sparked. Serving with AmeriCorps has helped that interest to glow brighter. Even the most challenging school days can be rewarding. I see how excited the children are to have a person showing up just for them, even when education isn’t foremost on their minds. It brightens their day as much as mine.
Walking into school is a true testament of the sense of community that is being taught. Children gladly wave and greet in the hallways. Students and teachers are quick to sympathize and support each other. I’m happy to be a part of that community. My year of service has introduced me to so many bright young minds, amazing educators, dedicated volunteers and so many walks of life. Every classroom and every student is a new experience. I’m very glad to be able to be one of the people to provide a positive moment of encouragement when needed…even when it’s something as simple as tying a shoe or zipping up a coat.
There are so many children that would like a chance to read with an adult. It makes them feel special and important. I always feel sad knowing I cannot give every child a chance to read with me or one of my tutors, especially the ones that ask whenever I walk into the classroom. Regardless, most every student and teacher has welcomed the tutors into the classroom with open arms. I am happy to know that my presence and the presence of my tutors is having a positive impact on their lives. We encourage engagement, pride in one’s work and the love of reading. Even the children that struggle and think of reading and school to be such a challenge or aren’t always willing to give it a try and see that there is someone there to support them. There is someone there to guide. There is someone there to share with. They learn they are not alone. Once they feel that support and encouragement they start to learn. They learn not to give up.
So, I may have never planned to participate in elementary education, but I’m very glad to have had the opportunity, received the encouragement from the school staff to apply and to have taken that first step. Not only am I helping the students, but they are helping me. I’ve learned to accept, to embrace and challenge myself as well.
Cynthia Melendy is a Wisconsin native who graduated from the UW-Madison with degrees in Art and English. She has had a varied career which eventually led her to the Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project.
Schenk Elementary School
It took me three years to apply for the Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project (SOH). During that time, I held and left three part-time jobs and then I became a stay-at-home mom. I was a college graduate that still had no idea where I was going to take my degree or career. I’ve always felt that events happened in my life exactly when they needed to, whether I intentionally sought them out or if they just fell into my lap. Schools of Hope was always on my radar. I remembered hearing about tutoring during a college lecture and I had a friend who served for two terms and another who did the summer program and they could not say enough good things about SOH. I had started the application four years ago but never really committed to following through. I was apprehensive to commit to yet another temporary gig when my peers had already started their careers.
Although I had never seen myself as a teacher, I wanted to serve with Schools of Hope to gain experience working in a school; the idea of working the school calendar year was alluring and convenient, especially with a child who would one day be on that same schedule. It didn’t hurt that I have always been passionate about working with kids, reading, education, and countless other social issues facing children and families in our community. I just had to figure out what role I’d best fit into.
Serving in a Madison school has been an eye-opening experience. You are surrounded by kids from all walks of life, and teachers and staff who are committed to giving them the education they deserve with the resources they have. You witness situations that are heart-wrenching, scary, and make you think that there has got to be a better way to serve these kids. AmeriCorps has given me the opportunity to attend trainings, workshops, talks, and symposiums that tackle the issues affecting children that directly or indirectly impact their education, how we can best serve our community’s children and what resources are available to parents, educators, and community members.
For most people, there isn’t a preset path or timeline for your life. I know that AmeriCorps came into my life at exactly the right time. If I had not waited a few years, I would not have met my amazing teammates, I would not have been at one school, which makes tutoring and coordinating volunteers exponentially easier, not to mention the close relationships you are able to build with the staff. I also would not have the life experiences I came in with prior to serving with Schools of Hope. Serving with AmeriCorps has reinvigorated my passion to help students and families and discover better ways to serve them in every aspect of their lives.
Jessica Murdy is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies. She has spent the last few years starting and raising her family in Madison. After her Schools of Hope term, Jessica hopes to continue giving back to her community, grow her family, and start a graduate program. Jessica is on the never-ending journey of figuring out who she wants to be when she grows up.
A Letter to My Children
Westside Elementary School
Dear Sweet Boy and Girl,
You are my miracle and my dream come true. You are my light, my laughter, my love and my life. You are my purpose and my drive. You are my reason to give, to grow and to do my part to make our world, your world, a better place. For you I serve.
I want you to live in a world where all people are equal and all people can be larger than great. I want you to live in a world where humanity makes mistakes and learns. I want you to live in a world where adults play together as children do and people choose to see the best qualities in one another. I want you to live in a world where people lift up their neighbors and beat down oppression, violence and hatred. I want you to live in a world that celebrates beauty and individuality. I want you to live in a world that grows and adapts and ever strives to make tomorrow better than today. For you I serve.
I want you to reach for your dreams and know that you have the power to make them come true. I want you to believe in your own greatness and worth. I want you to love deeply, feel warmth and satisfaction and experience great joy- and sometimes the heartache that comes with that joy so that you can appreciate each new day and opportunity before you. I want you to take risks and work hard. I want you to find value in yourself and others. And too, I want you to spread your wings and teach others the truths that you find. For you I serve.
I want you to know my love and my dedication. I want you to know my strength so that you may stand back up when you fall down. I want you to know my struggles so that you may learn from my mistakes. I want you to know my passion so that you may see that you may have passion too. I want you to see the examples I set so that you may walk your own path in the right direction. I want you to be bigger than me so that you may make the world a better place for your own children one day. For you I serve.
So my sweet children, it is for you that I live each day the best way that I can. It is for you and for the world that you live in, the people you will touch and the family you will someday raise that I choose to be my own greatest self. It is for you that I serve.
All my love,
Nichole Schick is a daughter, wife and mother of two. She is a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign graduate, former teacher and current AmeriCorps member lucky enough to have been selected to serve this year. She loves to spend time with her family, read and enjoy sunshine any way she can!
“Tell Me and I Forget. Teach Me and I Remember. Involve Me and I Learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Midvale Elementary School
In the spring of 2015 I was selected to serve as an AmeriCorps member with the Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project in Madison, Wisconsin. My year of service would focus on tutoring students and improving literacy skills with students who are nearing or developing proficiency. The heart of what we do at Schools of Hope is to encourage and show students that they have the skills to succeed, even if at times it feels overwhelming or challenging.
Growing up I was very close with my grandparents, both of whom were avid readers. At a very young age I loved to read and be read to. My grandmother, who was very involved in her grandchildren’s education, came to my classroom once a week to read out loud to my class starting in Kindergarten and continued until I was in 6th grade. Even after I had left elementary school my grandmother had built such great relationships with the teachers that she continued to read to classrooms weekly. She was soon known throughout the school as Grandma Phyllis, and became quite the celebrity! It was truly incredible to see how responsive kids were to Grandma Phyllis coming in to read. There were always a handful of students who were not used to being read to and found little joy in the experience. That didn’t stop Grandma from engaging with every student in the classroom. Soon the students who were the least interested in her book, were the most vocal about her having to leave for the day. Grandma created a space that fostered mutual respect, kindness, and learning, no matter the student’s ability or reading level. Grandma’s 17 years of reading to elementary classrooms is what inspired me to serve with AmeriCorps in an elementary school. I was, and still am, thrilled to be an integral part in introducing students to the wonder of reading.
What I love so much about the opportunity to serve at Midvale is not only do I get to work with kids on a day-to-day basis, but I get to help other volunteers and students make great connections with each other. I have volunteers who have followed students through each of the grades at Midvale, and have built incredible relationships with those students. Relationships are the foundation for true engagement in learning. Through building relationships with our students we are showing them that we care, that we are invested in their success. Helping our students feel ownership of their education is the best way to put them on the road to success. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” I am serving students by involving them in their education.
Kysa Stocking is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota but moved to Wisconsin for her undergraduate degree. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the spring of 2015 with a BA in History, International Studies, Environmental Studies, and a minor in Global Health. After completing her AmeriCorps service she is planning on obtaining her Masters in Social Work.
Learning Through Service
Anneke van Lith
Crestwood Elementary School
Upon reflecting on my year of service with AmeriCorps, I’ve realized how much this experience has taught me. As an AmeriCorps member, I’ve learned more about the ways public schools function in Madison, effective practices to support students, and my aspirations to advocate for children’s education in my own career.
I’ve learned about the Madison Metropolitan School District, and the ways in which the public education system works. Having attended parochial schools in Madison for the entirety of my childhood, it has been fascinating to learn more about public education in my hometown. I’ve become familiar with “learning targets” and “structured teaching”, as well as literacy tutoring strategies and tips for helping students get “unstuck” when they are reading. In addition, I’ve discovered the meaning of more acronyms than I can possibly remember: IRT, SEA, SIP, BEP, ELL, PBS, IEP, LMC, MAP… the list goes on and on!
Throughout my experience as an AmeriCorps member, I’ve also learned a lot about my students- about the ways in which their backgrounds affect their learning styles, as well as the impacts of their home lives on their challenges and triumphs at school. I’ve expanded my knowledge about the different Madison neighborhoods that my students live in, and I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer with my students at a community center in one lower income neighborhood. I’ve also learned a lot about students’ needs, and how knowing something about children’s experiences outside of the classroom fosters a better understanding of them as learners.
In addition, I’ve discovered things about myself through my service with AmeriCorps. I’ve realized that whatever career path I take after this year, I want to be directly and positively impacting the lives of children. Spending every day interacting with enthusiastic, feisty, creative, stubborn, and brilliant kids makes me truly happy. I know that working to improve children’s education is my passion, and I plan to pursue a career that supports this goal.
I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to serve as an AmeriCorps member with Schools of Hope. Throughout this process, I’ve learned new things about the strengths and challenges inherent in the public education system; the importance of recognizing children’s backgrounds and needs to support them as learners; and my desire to continue serving the cause of children’s education as I go forward in my professional life.
Anneke returned to Madison this past year after completing her M.A. in Museum Studies, with a focus on children’s programming in museums, at New York University. She is happy to be back in her hometown serving as a Tutor Coordinator for the Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project at Crestwood Elementary. She plans to pursue a career in children’s education.
What Will Work Best Today?
Sandburg Elementary School
Tutoring sessions with “Amanda” pretty well exemplify my time as an AmeriCorps member. A bumpy start, a slow learning process, great successes, and frustrating roadblocks. Though only in first grade, Amanda is already achingly aware of how she struggles to read and write. Her speech can be as disjointed as her writing, but that doesn’t prevent her from rattling off the latest list of reasons why we can’t read today. Working with her twice a week, I soon grew fatigued with this inactivity.
Our first breakthrough occurred when, in a desperate attempt to pique her interest, I gave her some “silly” sentences to read. “Miss Kendall is a cat. Amanda is a frog. She likes to meow. I like to hop!” Through giggles we meowed, ribbitted, and frog-hopped through the hall. We began to make a connection, and silly sentences effectively incentivized her for a few weeks. The excitement wore off and after a week of rough sessions, I remembered that I once saw a teacher give “stars” to students as they completed their work with her. I decided to give it a try.
A few month later, Amanda is striving to earn as many stars as she can during every session. Our system rewards her with a “Good Attitude Sticker” for each good session we have and with a larger sticker for every 10 stars she earns. While she is not old enough to realize that I fairly arbitrarily reward stars, she is old enough to recognize that our more productive sessions earn her more stars than do our more distracted sessions. When she earns a Good Attitude Sticker, Amanda explains all the good behaviors and attitudes she displayed during the session. When she doesn’t, she instead admits how some behavior like running down the hall or being too distracted prevented her from earning the day’s sticker. Our sessions have never been more productive, and I couldn’t be more proud of the progress she’s made thus far.
The longer I work with my students, the more I learn about how to motivate them. Amanda will settle down after 20 jumping jacks and likes me to turn my back while she’s writing. Other students like to be challenged, some like to perform a quick Google search to find an example of what they’re reading, and still others like to start every session with a few minutes of asking each other questions.
In many ways, my journey with Amanda has mirrored my experience as an AmeriCorps member. I had initial ideas of how to run my school’s program and communicate with teachers and tutors, but I discovered that I would need to approach each person a little differently. I find myself constantly trying to find new and more effective ways to support my teachers, students, and tutors. It’s exciting to start every day with the question: “What will work best today?”
Kendall Vega graduated from Carthage College with a B.A. in Political Science. She serves as the Tutor Coordinator at Sandburg Elementary School. She will attend the La Follette School of Public Affairs in the fall with the hopes of studying the effects of poverty on elementary education.
What Do You Want to Do?
Glendale Elementary School
You know that question. That one that usually shows itself at some traditional holiday or family gathering when relatives banter back and forth about your future until finally someone asks, “So, what do you want to do?” I hate that question. What do they mean? What do they want me to say? I know it’s well intended, but what if I don’t know what I want to “do?”. Of course, after a short while you develop some automatic, scripted response that tries to paint yourself as something other than the burgeoning failure you fear you’re on the cusp of becoming. When all you’ve done thus far has been little more than the crude economics of exchanging your time for money it’s easy to be at a loss for words. Yet the question still remains: “What do you want to do?”.
About a year ago I was working as a retail cashier at a local thrift store and while I loved the co-workers, the company, and the customers, I couldn’t shake the biting notion that at the end of the day all I’ve done with my time is help those with too much acquire more. It wasn’t fulfilling; it wasn’t what I wanted to “do.” Finding myself at this mundane and stagnant point in my life it became uncomfortably clear to me that a change was needed…so I left my cashier position and joined the Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project. Suddenly, instead of cleaning dressing rooms and explaining “sold as-is” policies to customers I was teaching preschoolers like “TreShawn” how to write their names, showing “Amit” that graphic novels aren’t just comic books, and, most importantly, helping all the students I work with to succeed in whatever direction their developing lives take.
Close to a year has passed since I started serving in AmeriCorps and I can honestly say that this has been one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. Witnessing a student’s progress and knowing that I’ve had some sort of role in it couldn’t be more life-affirming. Not only that, but it’s helped me gain insight into what sort of trajectory I’d like my own life to take. Which brings me back to my nuisance of a question: “What do I want to do?” In short, I don’t know. Should I join the countless ranks of teachers, social workers and others who’ve devoted their lives to civil service? Maybe. Or how about volunteering my time with various organizations and initiatives until I find an occupation that resonates with who I’d like to be and what I’d like to become? Now there’s an idea – after all, it’s what led me to AmeriCorps in the first place. Nevertheless, whatever I “do”, wherever my life leads, my time with the Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project will be remembered as one where I discovered more about who I am and where I learned to find myself through service.
Jacob Walters is a Madison, Wisconsin native and a Tutor Coordinator at Glendale Elementary. He attended Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois and graduated with his B.A. in Corporate Communications in 2013. His future plans – as you’ve read – are, as of now, uncertain, however he looks forward to serving another year with Schools of Hope.
Lincoln Elementary School
One of the things I noticed right away was that a lot of us were at very different stages of life. Some were recent college grads looking for a bit of direction before pursuing careers or graduate school; there were those who hadn’t yet finished college; and there were others that had already done all that and were ready to plan for retirement. There was something we all shared: we all had the desire to help others, to improve our community, and to address the inequity we saw in our education system.
I was initially drawn to Schools of Hope because I thought it would be a good way to get professional experience. I already knew that I wanted to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector, but I was fresh out of school with little experience. With SOH, I hoped to get some volunteer management skills and address the achievement gap in Madison schools.
What I wasn’t expecting was that the kids would be my favorite part of the job. I was a bit apprehensive to tutor, since the last time I interacted with kids that age was…when I was that age. I’d always marveled at friends or acquaintances who professed a love of working with kids, because I had yet to achieve any level of comfort around them.
So imagine my distress when, at my first ever official tutoring session, the student I placed myself with would not so much as look at me. Harrison’s* teacher had told me that he was an extremely reluctant worker, one that needed some coaxing, but my cheerful cajoling appeared to have little effect on him. Ms. Hazel* was making rounds about the room while the class worked on their writing assignment; whenever she passed by I felt a rising sense of panic.
By some miracle, I stumbled onto one of his favorite topics: fish. All of a sudden he was bubbling with enthusiasm. Ms. Hazel asked if I’d be willing to keep working with him, hoping to build on the connection we made that day– and I agreed. Now, months later, I can say that the change I’ve seen in him is nothing short of outstanding. Before, he was silent in class, a reluctant worker, and rarely smiled; now I see him joking around with other students, volunteering to read aloud, and eagerly looking forward to working with me.
It would be inaccurate to claim that my tutoring was solely responsible for this transformation– after all, I am but one of many factors that help determine students’ academic success. Even so, I think this experience has proven that SOH does good things for our community and our students: we all can make a difference by instilling students with a love and enthusiasm for learning that will serve them throughout their lives.
*Names changed for privacy.
Kirstie Yu loves books, libraries, learning languages, video games, and mint chocolate chip ice cream. She hopes to pursue a career in nonprofit work related to immigration.