By Emily Siskind, AmeriCorps member serving on the Wellington Management team with Trotter Innovation School

“On the count of three you can all together shout the secret password that will initiate you into the secret math club," said the teacher, " Ready? One…Two…Three!”


I watched as 12 eager 4th-grade students shouted the “secret math club password” while jumping up and down wearing stickers on their foreheads. Although Boston Public Schools were technically not in session, these students at the Henry Grew Elementary School chose to attend Acceleration Academy over April vacation.

Several Boston Public Schools schools host what is known as “Acceleration Academies” during February and April vacation weeks, and there City Year teams continue to support teachers in their classrooms. The goal of these academies is to provide students with extra tutoring in English language arts (ELA) and math, helping students keep their academic skills sharp during their week off from school. The learning environments tend to be smaller compared to regular class sizes, and there is opportunity for students to receive more individualized attention and differentiated instruction. And since it is technically vacation, teachers incorporate unconventional games and competitions into their lessons to ensure that the week of learning is particularly playful and engaging.

During this week, the seven AmeriCorps members on the Wellington Management team supported teachers and students at the Henry Grew Elementary School in Hyde Park. Each morning, students arrived at school, ate breakfast in the cafeteria, and then eagerly headed to their classrooms to start their day of learning. Although I usually serve in a 6th-grade classroom, this week I supported a 4th-grade classroom and had the privilege of working with a creative and energetic teacher who was clearly loved by her students.

On the first morning of Acceleration Academy, the students were particularly energetic and excited to see what activities would take place in the upcoming week. Sensing the students’ level of energy and anticipating the potential difficulty students might have focusing on schoolwork, my partner teacher decided to channel their enthusiasm by telling the students that they were all about to be initiated into a secret club for the week. Dramatically, my teacher asked students to form a quiet line, and one by one she placed a sticker on each student’s forehead and whispered the secret password into each of their ears.

I watched as the students giggled and smiled as they all became part of this important club that would connect them as a team for the week. After each student became initiated, the students went to their desks, proudly wearing their stickers on their foreheads, and worked diligently on the math packet that was assigned.

Watching my partner teaching enthusiastically create this club as a way to make students excited about math and motivated to work hard reminded me of how important the vibe of the classroom environment is to student learning. It inspired me with new ideas that I could bring back to the students I serve when they return from April vacation. Ultimately, creating exciting, enthusiastic, and stimulating classroom environments enhance student motivation and make students eager to learn—in the classroom and out of it.

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