What does City Year service really look like this year?
What is it like to serve with City Year?
We spoke with Michelle Rivera, an AmeriCorps member serving with City Year Los Angeles, to learn more about her City Year journey and how she’s been able to support her students now that in-person learning has resumed.
A graduate of Humboldt State University with a degree in political science, Michelle helps to support third graders at Woodworth-Monroe K-8 Academy. Growing up in East LA, Michelle saw City Year AmeriCorps members serve at her school—Stevenson Middle—where they continue to serve today. When she graduated from college, Michelle knew she wanted to give back to her community—and, for her, becoming a City Year AmeriCorps member was the best way to do it.
City Year (CY): You’re a first-year AmeriCorps member. So, what has the transition to service been like for you?
Michelle Rivera (MR): “The biggest adjustment to service has been the amount of social interaction! After a year and a half of social distancing (and my own experience with virtual learning in undergrad), I had gotten used to a degree of social isolation.
“Coming back into the classroom, meeting my wonderful students and teammates catapults you out of that, for sure. And working with third graders, they’re generally very excited to see you, hug you, and interact with each other and the adults in the school.
“Initially, it was a little overwhelming, but on the other hand, I think it’s been refreshing to be able to interact with people in person. Overall, I’m happy to get out from behind a screen!”
CY: What do you think this transition back to in-person learning has been like for your students?
MR: “I think my students faced a very similar challenge in returning to the classroom. Everyone had just gotten used to virtual learning—and I don’t think many people thought we would be able to get back to the classroom this soon. Students, parents and teachers all made some peace with the idea that “virtual” was our new reality. And now, here we are!
“My students are young and very excited to be around other children. But we’re still in a pandemic, and they don’t always remember that in their excitement. We always have to remind them about pulling masks up, hand sanitizing or washing and trying not to share foods. They’re kids, so, understandably, they forget these things. But it’s definitely a part of the job to remind them and support them through pandemic protocol.”
CY: Do your students ever speak with you about their feelings regarding the pandemic?
MR: “To be honest, not so much. Students bring it up now and then, but they talk more about their lives and what they’re going through at home or in their neighborhoods. Many structural problems like the lack of access to services and economic opportunities continue to affect them and their families. This was a reality before the pandemic, and in many cases, it has been exasperated by the pandemic.
“Growing up in East LA, I can understand what my students are going through, and I think it put me in a better position to support and build relationships with them.
“In general, I think younger children are more comfortable confiding in adults. I serve in a third-grade classroom, but I’ll have fourth and fifth graders come up to me and talk about their challenges. I love it because that means that they feel like they have someone to talk to.
“I know that it’s not always easy to speak to parents or other family members. As much as they love and care, they’re just not always able to have those kinds of conversations with you. Being an outlet or listening ear for our students is a privilege.”
CY: What has been your biggest joy and your biggest challenge?
MR: “That’s easy to answer; my biggest joy is the students! I adore my kids, and each one of them is so awesome in their own unique way. I’m the youngest in my family, so I see them all as the little siblings I never had. I feel so lucky that I get to spend my days supporting them and bonding with them.
“The biggest challenge is that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. As with most people, it has taken a toll on my mental health, and I initially had a really tough time dealing with it all. But working alongside my students has helped me get back to a better place. They bring so much positive energy and excitement to school—it’s hard not to feel uplifted by that.
“All days aren’t a “walk in the park,” but it’s still been nothing short of a fantastic experience so far.”
CY: How has being on a team helped you through the challenges of service?
MR: “I’ve never had a job where I was close to my co-workers. But, with City Year, it’s been different! We all lean on each other for support. When we’re having a bad day, we talk about it. We share things about our lives and experiences. We laugh—a lot!
“It’s just nice to feel like you’re not alone in anything. Part of our self-care is supporting each other the way we would our students (with lots of check-ins, advice and listening). I know that loving your job and the people you work with is not something everyone gets to experience. It’s a privilege that I don’t take for granted.”
CY: Do you have any advice for future corps members?
MR: “It can be challenging for corps members to dedicate much of their time and energy to their students. Some days just aren’t easy. If you’re having a bad day, or your student is, it’s challenging to find a way to work through that. So, I would say come to this experience with patience for yourself and your students. It’ll take you a long way.
“Secondly, I’d say love your students and the community they’re from (which is now, in a way, your community too). Talk to them about their favorite local food or the people in their neighborhood they love most! If you work to know and understand the community you serve, you’ll be in a better position to support your students.”
Interested in serving with City Year? Start your application today!
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