By John Carpenter, City Year Los Angeles '17
Working with a select group of students throughout the year is paramount to the City Year AmeriCorps member role. It allows us the opportunity to hone in on students who need our support the most, and offer them specialized one-on-one support. But what exactly does working with a focus list of students entail and how does this experience allow AmeriCorps members incorporate their own interests and creativity on a daily basis? Currently serving City Year Los Angeles, AmeriCorps member John Carpenter shares his experience utilizing with focus lists, and this approach allows him to uniquely support students.
What school and grade level do you currently serve in?
JC: I currently serve in the seventh grade at George Washington Carver Middle School in South Los Angeles.
In your role as a City Year AmeriCorps member, how do you use data on a daily basis?
JC: Data is my rock at City Year. Whenever I need to make a decision pertaining to my students or lessons, I turn to my student data to inform my approach. One of my goals for the year is to spend 15 hours with each of my focus list students. If there is a particular lesson or subject a student needs support with, I refer back to my focus list data and strategically plan how much time I should spend working with my student and how to best utilize that time.
What is a focus list and how is it created?
JC: Each AmeriCorps member is assigned to list of students to tutor and mentor. These students are determined in the beginning of the year with input from classroom teachers and impact managers based on a student's math and English performance, classroom behavior, and absenteeism (ABC's). My focus list has 11 students. I tutor six students in English and five students in math.
Focus lists really bring out City Year's mentoring component. Working with same students everyday allows me to build relationships with my students and connect with them. This consistency helps my students learn and lets them know I am there for them.
How do you utilize your focus list every day? How is it an integral tool in your daily service?
JC: My focus list is a key component of my daily function in the classroom. My teammates and I have a weekly pacing goal of working with our students 45 minutes per day. I track the amount of time spent with each student along with the lesson content in my focus list. This allows me to track lesson progress and determine any changes needed to be made based on their performance and growth.
Every week, we write our focus list data on a whiteboard and debrief around progress and issues. A few weeks ago, our data indicated that our team was doing well with our math interventions, but our English interventions had more areas for improvement. This indicated to my Team Leader that we needed additional support and resources to better prepare for our English tutoring sessions. This showed me how individual data has the ability to come together and reveal a powerful story.
Another way focus lists play a significant role in my daily service is through my coordinator role. On my team, I am the evaluation coordinator. My main responsibility is to ensure my teammates are tracking their focus-list data in our online workbooks. Last week, I facilitated an hour-long data workshop, I did an in-depth presentation about each piece of the workbook and what we can learn from using the tool. This was the first time I presented in front of a large group of people in a professional setting. Leading on this project and then presenting gave me a sense of how I am truly building skills applicable in any field.
How does focus list data determine your decision making? What has this experience taught you about working with data?
JC: Working with data has given me a new perspective and approach to decision-making. Even though we can feel a certain way or make assumptions about what is going on in the world around us, we should always analyze data and make sure our observations are accurate before making decisions. Data is something that does not lie and can give us a lot of new information.
For example, one of my students was really struggling with his behavior in one of his classes and was distracted by other students. Through looking at my focus list data, I was able to see that his standardized test scores were significantly better than his course performance. If I had not reviewed this students' data, I may not have known that his behavior was brining his grades down. After my discovery, I pulled my student outside of the classroom to complete his work with me one-on-one, and he exceeded my expectations. I let him know that he was an "A" student, but his grades were not reflecting this. Moving forward, I knew to focus less on giving him extra work and practice tests and instead help him focus and improve his behavior in the classroom in order for him to reach his full potential everyday.
What do you uniquely bring to the AmeriCorps member role? How does this help you in your work with students?
JC: I am really interested in human development and psychology. Before City Year, I worked with special needs students. This experience exposed me to how different factors influence an individual's learning style and behavior. Today, I incorporate this perspective. If a student is struggling, either behaviorally or academically, I focus on ways to engage them from a social emotional perspective because students could be going through something that is affecting them in the classroom, and I want to be there for them.
How do you work creatively to get through to students and engage them?
JC: My role enables me to work creatively to engage my students in a variety of ways. My reading group recently annotated a popular rap song. The students were familiar with the song and the artists. They were really engaged, excited and felt connected to what they were learning. Board games and drawing projects are other creative tactics I use to engage my students and help them learn beyond using a pen and paper.
My teammates and I are all from different backgrounds and have different interests. Through our service experience, we have the unique opportunity to bring out these different parts of ourselves. This year has taught me that City Year is for everyone and not only for individuals with an interest in education.
This blog is part five of our monthly series, "What Do AmeriCorps Members Do?" What else does the City Year AmeriCorps role involve? Read to learn more:
Part Eight: Run Afterschool Programs
Part Seven: Provide Positive Behavior Support
Part Six: Address Student Absenteeism in Schools
Part Four: Build Relationships to Help Students Succeed
Part Three: Track Student Progress Using Data
Part Two: Own Unique Responsibilities as Coordinators
Part One: Tutoring and Teamwork