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AMERICORPS Reflections

Reflections on a Year of National Service

~July 2011~

Editor's Note: This is the third year that an AmeriCorps or VISTA member from the Federal Way AmeriCorps and VISTA Team has written a reflections column for Volunteer. Meet Ellie Klein the latest person to take time to share observations about working with volunteers and her experience kids. These columns are a reflections of the impact that volunteering has on someone's life. Enjoy.

Federal Way AmeriCorps and VISTA Team. Established in 1995, the Federal Way AmeriCorps program works to strengthen the Federal Way community through academic tutoring and modeling an ethic of service.

AmeriCorps members in Federal Way serve full time in the Federal Way Public Schools. In addition to tutoring students and developing before and after school programs, members manage two community tutoring programs, implement civic engagement community projects and serve in area service projects. AmeriCorps members also recruit and train community volunteers. For more information on their programs http://www.fwps.org/dept/volunteer/acfw.html


“Knock knock”
“Who’s there?”
“Lettuce who?”
“Lettuce, tomato and ketchup”

This is one of my kindergartner’s favorite jokes. And by jokes, I mean attempts at a joke, because as far as knock knock jokes go, it doesn’t make much sense. Roberto tells a version of this almost every week, sometimes everyday. “Who’s there” is always “lettuce” and what follows may be any variety of food items. The other day one of our fifth graders told this joke back to Roberto on the walk home. He laughed so hard he fell onto the grass grasping his stomach, then finally after taking a few minutes to compose himself, stood up and gasped “That makes me too happy!”

I laugh more when I’m working than when I’m not. These students don’t feel like just students, they feel like my students and they are not just people anymore, they are people I have relationships with and relate to. When I was talking to a friend the other day and telling him about one of my first graders, I realized that no one really makes me laugh harder than Gabriela. At times we won’t even say anything to each other; it will just be a look across the room or a smile when someone else says something, and we will both burst out laughing. Uncontrollable, hold-our-stomachs, five-minute-long, laughter. On the way home this past week I was practicing my Spanish and asked Gabriela “How do you say ‘little”? Gabriela was wearing a pink and green coat and I wanted to tell her she looked like a little watermelon. She took a minute, looked up at me, and smiled “grande”.

I don’t talk to these students like kids. Although I hold them to high standards and remain professional in their presence, I think part of the reason I can connect to them so well, is that I treat them as adults. I don’t use a baby voice when talking to five-year-old students, and I don’t pretend that my high schoolers are oblivious about where babies come from. Although I cater to my audience, I am also sure, now, to remain myself. At the beginning of this year I often felt stiff in the way I interacted with some of my students, but when I finally started letting go, they began liking me more. I have a big thing with authenticity, it is one of the traits I value most in others and am consistently aware of about myself. I try hard not to say things I don’t mean and am skeptical of others when they come across as fake. Authenticity is what I like best about my students. Although they are still very much attempting to figure out who they are, they are also painstakingly direct in their actions. They are honest with what they find funny and what they don’t, who they like and who they don’t, and what they understand and what they don’t. My elementary schoolers have no problem blurting out “This is BORING” or asking me why my shoes don’t match my shirt, just as my high schoolers will blatantly say “You’re not explaining this well” or ask me when I’ll get married.         
In a ninth grade classroom the other week, we were talking about the book “Memoirs of a Geisha.” When I asked my students to write their summaries on the class discussion, I reemphasized that I wanted them to explain how they thought they would use this information in the future. As I was reading through the typical responses of “I will use this next week on my book report”, or “this discussion showed me how to analyze the plotline of stories”, I got to a response from one of my quieter ninth graders. He wrote: “Today I learned that a geisha is a nice lady that entertains men. I will use this in the future on my next trip to Japan.”

As an Oprah addict, I watched some of her final episode today. In it, she kept coming back to the same theme: when you are true to who you are, those around you feel more comfortable in being true to themselves. A few months ago, my supervisor directed me towards a similarly themed Nelson Mandela quote: “There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won't feel unsure around you. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” When my students let go, make jokes and candidly observe the world around them, I find myself feeling more comfortable with who I am. Our supervisor often tells us that she will learn more from us than we will learn from her. Oprah said the same about her viewers. I know that goes for my students. Not only are they constantly re-teaching me concepts like long division, or reengaging my interest in U.S. World Wars, but more importantly, they show me everyday that is totally and completely okay to be yourself, at age 5, at age 14 or at age 23.

Ellie Klein graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA in May of 2010 with a degree in Media Studies. She is currently serving with the Federal Way Public Schools AmeriCorps team as a tutor at Decatur High School and volunteer at the Westway After School Program where she tries to engage students in learning through personal reflections and cross-content understandings.

Corporation for National and Community Service

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