By Kayla Parr, AmeriCorps member serving on the MFS Investment Management team at Dever-McCormack Middle School

Three English language learners remind me that when we collaborate, and invest in goals together, we truly can “make better happen.” Continue reading to hear how three students and I are “in this together” as we collaborate to set goals and improve their English literacy skills.


Jessica* is a sophomore who recently immigrated to the U.S. Even though she is still learning English, she is quite self-sufficient in her classes. We have started to develop a relationship because I am intentional about checking in with her during class. Last week Jessica came up to me and gave me a piece of paper as she said to me, “We are in this together.” At first her comment took me by surprise, but I couldn’t help but smile when I unfolded the paper. It was a list of 25 words translated from English to Spanish*. While I am helping her learn English and she is teaching me her native language. 


Avery* is an 8th-grade Portuguese*-speaking student. In English class, he was struggling to keep up with the pace of the rest of the students. To help Avery build his language skills, his teacher and I arranged for me to tutor him one-on-one every other day. For the first few weeks, Avery wasn’t very excited about being pulled out of class for this individual attention. He felt like he was working toward a goal that was “assigned” to him, rather than committing to that goal himself. 

In an open conversation with Avery, I gave him a choice: I could continue to work with him during class for extra practice or we could stop the additional tutoring sessions. Even though I was disappointed when he told me he wanted to stop, I respected his decision. 

A couple days later Avery* was still struggling with the same material in class. Right before class was over Avery came over to me and asked if we could restart his tutoring sessions. I smiled. Now we weren’t acting on my goals for him, but rather his own goals for himself. Now, I knew, we were in this together.


Jordan* sat hunched over with his head in his hands and his independent reading book next to his desk on the floor.

“Jordan*, is everything okay? What are you reading about?” I asked him as I picked up his book off the floor.

“I can’t read,” he said shaking his head and not even looking up at me. 

I know Jordan* struggles in literacy, but I was determined to encourage him not to give up. “How about I read, but I will stop on certain words and you have to help me read them?” 

He agreed reluctantly. 

We began reading and I strategically only stopped on sight words, a common core of words all students should know from memory. I made a big deal, praising every time he got a difficult word correct or when he worked hard to sound out a word. As we continued to read he began to start reading words on his own.

“I sounded out that really long word!” he exclaimed with a look of pride on his face. 

I smile, proud to see him realize he CAN read. Sometimes, AmeriCorps members need to show students that we really are in this together.

Want to know more about the students we serve? 
  • Meet Varian--an aspiring student athlete. 
  • Meet Andre--who is working on improving his attendance. 
  • Meet Mara--a courageous elementary school student. 
* Name and details changed to protect student privacy.

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