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AMERICORPS Reflections

Reflections on a Year of National Service

~May 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


Very much like my first cat, Raindrop Breezy Rainbow, my high schoolers don’t always like me. At Decatur High School, students try to determine why I’m in their world, my exact role in their lives and why they should have to listen to me. Sometimes they seem excited by my youth, at others they seem frustrated by yet another adult they need to respect. Raindrop would often bite me when I gave him too much attention, just as my high schoolers groan when I shower them with too much positivity. In this world, I have to win the attention of students. They rarely like me at first sight and most definitely do not remember my name. They will give me looks of disdain when I ask them to put away their cell phones and frequently avoid eye contact in the hallway as I enthusiastically wave at them. I slowly win them over by reappearing in their world day after day, making jokes at my own expense, continuing to smile at them when they turn away, and, of course, by the occasional “please just like me a little” bribe of candy. Just as I think I am winning them over as they flash me a smile, they revert back and ignore the next thing I say. Suddenly their cell phone reappears from the depths of their backpack as they explain that the next text will surely be the most important they ever send. Their affection is hard to win and even harder to maintain.

After work each day I come home every to a nine-year-old overly enthusiastic black lab named Shadow, who acts an awful lot like a shadow, following my every move, especially after we’ve bonded over a long walk or game of fetch. Similarly I find an elementary schoolers trailing me into the main office, or off into the parking lot as I go to get a ball that’s gone over the fence. Here at the after-school program, my students greet me at the door with enthusiasm, often regardless of how much they like me, I like them, or how either one of us treated each other the day before. They are incredibility energetic and will latch on to most anyone new we bring into the after-school program (my mom came in last October and they are still asking about her). In this world I am glorified, although not always respected, in the eyes of my students. I ask these students to stop hitting each other, to walk in the hallways, not run, and I teach them about the world of cumulus clouds and gingerbread houses as their rambunctious energy supersedes my instructions. This world, although sometimes more difficult to manage, is easier to assess. The mistakes of my students are less hidden and their emotions less concealed. Their affection for me may be more volatile, but their inconsistencies are consistent.

I once read an article about how we should show the same type of patience and understanding to our spouse as we do to our pets. The same should go for students. You get what you give, and although students may know better, getting upset at a five-year-old who runs in the hallway is going to do as much good as yelling at my dog for eating the chocolate off the floor. I may rejoice at an internal win of showing them how I feel, but what am I really gaining out of this interaction? The five-year-old probably felt hurt by my words and my dog likely shuffled away confused. They doubtfully “learned their lesson”, and I likely just raised my blood pressure.

Similarly, ignoring your cat back for ignoring you will do absolutely nothing (trust me, I tried over my nineteen years with Raindrop Breezy Rainbow and he never noticed, or if he did he was a remarkably masterful actor). Why would an eighteen-year-old want to listen to me? Why would they trust me at first sight? It would be rather frightening if they did. I learned quickly that letting their emotional mood swings get to me only ended up making me feel bad and straining our already weak relationships. The day I decided to enter the room feeling positive, was the day I thought they started to like me. Maybe it was all a mind game and they liked me the whole time, and maybe Raindrop’s sneak attacks as I walked up the stairs were this way of showing his love, but honestly, what does it matter? I’ll never really know what Raindrop was thinking, or what my students are feeling, so beyond listening to what they decide to share, thinking positive seems to be the best way for us both to succeed.

Our AmeriCorps supervisor often reassures us that it is our students job to be naughty. They are students, still navigating the road of who they are, so why wouldn’t they test the limits? Whether a it’s dog barking at me to go outside, a cat ignoring my affection, a five-year-old running with scissors, or an eighteen-year-old sending a text during class, I have come to learn the importance of patient understanding, both with my students and myself.  

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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