2017-03-02

By: Samuel James Keith, 2016-2017 AmeriCorps member, George Washington Carver STEM school

A few weeks ago, my walks through the hallways of George Washington Carver STEM began to feel a lot like those in Bentley Hall, where I took many classes as an Anthropology Major while attending Ohio University. Feelings of excitement mixed with apprehension as sunlight crept through the large windows near Carver’s cafeteria.

The coming spring explains my excitement; the prospect of warmer weather always lifts my mood this time of year. The source of my apprehension rests about twenty feet from the large, sunlit windows, a medium-sized laminated paper that reads, “OST, 22 days away.” The fact that the paper has not been updated in a few days adds to my uneasiness. It is not dread I feel, but the creeping, gnawing anxiety I had at the onset of finals week during my time in college. The same pressure on me then is now, in my mind, placed on my third-grade students in Mrs. Roundtree’s class.

All of the standardized tests my students will be taking soon are rigorous, and for third graders represents a certain rite of passage. It is essential that all of Carver’s third graders test well on the OST (Ohio State Test) because of the Reading Guarantee. The Guarantee may very well determine whether or not they go on to the fourth grade. Because of this, the pressure on my students may be even greater than what was on me during the many finals week during my time in college.

With the oncoming tests, Mrs. Roundtree, my partner teacher, is adapting. Our students are working less in their workbooks; instead, she has them taking notes and learning test taking strategies. My favorite one so far is when she had them learning the importance of annotating and underlining key passages of a text. The students loved it too, as it gave them a chance to use highlighters. It was great to see them enjoy a lesson that important.

Due to all of this added pressure to both the students and the staff, the presence of my teammates and I at City Year Carver takes on added importance. We help our teachers by providing support during their lectures and lessons. The aid we give our students comes in a variety of forms, be it during the school day or through after school programming. One of the most rewarding, but challenging, tasks we perform is monitoring and goal setting with our Behavior Focus List students. This list is made up of 5 students we selected based on survey scores. These students are not necessarily the most rambunctious in our classes, but typically just those who need a little bit of an extra push to stay motivated or passionate when it comes to their studies. It also gives us the chance to build deeper relationships with them. With the NWEA (school assessment) tests beginning this week, and the OST around the corner, these behavior sessions can really help the students’ performance.

As we all begin to focus on the end of the school year, it does not mean I am done with my important work in the schools right now. The most significant part of the year is now merely beginning. Just like in finals week, my students will have to hop over the hardest hurdle to get to the end. My recent experience navigating finals week in college allows me to empathize with those I work with during these weeks. It may be getting beautiful outside, but in the schools, it is serious business.

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