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AMERICORPS Reflections

Reflections on a Year of National Service

~June 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


What was the best part of your day? I’ve hooked you and now you’re probably at least somewhat interested in what this article has to say. I could go on to the most boring 720 words ever written and would then surely lose your attention, or I could to continue to build on the engaged audience I created by starting with an inquiry.

In my now 8 months as an AmeriCorps member, I have begun to understand the importance of asking questions. Today was one of the most fulfilling days because for the first time, my ninth graders showed a genuine interest in my life. Typically seen as the 20-something who holds students to high standards and laughs too much at herself, today my students stopped and asked me if ever watched movies like The Hangover, and what kind of bugs I saw in India, and if I liked to drink smoothies. Weird questions, but the kind of stuff that crosses most 14-year-old minds.

Talking points on our failing education system fills the speeches of 2012 presidential hopefuls, and from walking the halls of a high school and monitoring the conversations of elementary schoolers at our after-school program, I see the real problems that face our students today.

Too often, we as adults fall to lazy ways, and lecture our youth. Whether on the history of civilizations, the Pythagorean theorem, or their classroom behavior, we tell students what to think instead of asking them what’s on their mind.
The world today and the future before us are full of changes and possibilities. America is not organized in systematic bubbles and mutually exclusive core subjects that we encounter in most schools. Our society is a complicated labyrinth of information that is navigated well by forward thinkers and innovative ideas. Understanding how to do long division and memorizing the order of U.S. presidents provides a crucial foundation to form any young mind, but expanding on that groundwork and formulating cross-content understandings is what really gets us somewhere. Asking why we need to know math, or what would happen if the stock market never crashed, or how our world would be impacted if immigrants could get green cards more easily, are the types of inquiry within our students. Kids are smart. They often are smarter than we think – we just need to offer them the opportunities to think for themselves.

With news that my favorite college professor is soon retiring, I began thinking about what made him such a dynamic instructor. Part of it was his kindness, part of it was the classes he taught, part of it was the academic advising and career counseling he provided, but most of it was his genuine interest in my ideas and my life. He would begin every class by asking “What’s new in world?”

This question would prompt responses about everything from Obama’s state of the union address to what we did over the weekend. No matter how big or small, how relevant to academia or not, he gave each response the same interest and weight. I never felt stupid for sharing or dumb for asking questions in his classes. This seems like an obvious quality any teacher, professor or parent should provide for their kids, but many adults don’t and forget that we as humans are often more confident in our decisions and ideas when they come from within.

As my students demonstrated an interest in me today, I have consistently tried to follow in the footsteps of my college professor and demonstrate my genuine interest in them. By asking them about their interests, probing them with questions about their post-graduation dreams, and asking their thoughts on how to solve whatever academic problem at hand, I have slowly but surely built relationships with each and everyone of my students through inquiry. Whether it’s a job interview, first date, catching up with an old friend, or standing in front of a classroom, inquiry moves you forward. In any encounter, interaction, or relationship, asking questions engages your listener while simultaneously demonstrating how much you value their intellect. So, as a friend, parent, teacher or volunteer to any individual, and especially to a student, I urge you to pause before providing answers and instead, explore the impact and creativity that flourishes from asking questions.

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

Interested in becoming an Americorps volunteer?


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