By Laura Stapler, AmeriCorps alumna (’14), John F. Kennedy Elementary School

What I miss most from my service year with City Year are the students. I served in a class of 15 students. By the end of the year, I knew the likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses every one of those students. There were some whom I worked closely with, some who made me laugh regularly, and some who challenged me. Andrea* was all of these.

I met Andrea on my first day of service in her 5th-grade class. Most of the students were super excited to have a new AmeriCorps member and were eager to see if I was as good as their last corps member. That first day, I walked over to Andrea, just to talk, and instantly her head went down on the desk. I was confused, and assumed something might be bothering her, so I tried to talk to her about it.

She refused to raise her head until I walked away. As soon as I was across the room, she seemed fine and re-engaged in the classroom. After this happened a few more times, I started worrying maybe I was doing wrong, and I asked my partner teacher for advice. She said that Andrea’s mom told her Andrea sometimes shuts down when she is frustrated or irritated and advised me to just give her some space and to be patient.

Breaking down walls with Andrea was a long journey, especially when I tutored her one-on-one. For every self-corrected homework problem, there would be an entire assignment she wouldn’t let me check because she knew she had gotten things wrong and she did not want to confront the fact that she was struggling to understand her homework.

I quickly learned that Andrea responded well to honesty and she appreciated when I was completely, yet politely, frank with her. Before she began her homework, I’d ask her to do a few sample problems and encouraged her to show me her work. This way, I could make sure she understood the concept and praised and encouraged her, building her confidence so that she could complete the assignment successfully.

As the school year ended, I wanted to make sure Andrea knew how much growth I have seen in her. I wanted her to be proud of it and to own it. I wanted her to know that she can continue to progress even without an AmeriCorps member there to support her. She believes in herself just like I believed in her.

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* Name changed to protect student privacy.

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