By Julie Cusano, AmeriCorps member serving on the Northwest Elementary School Team generously supported by Comcast NBCUniversal.
For as long as I can remember, I have been passionate about striving for equity in education. I have witnessed firsthand the inherent inequality that plagues our public schools and decided that after high school I wanted to pursue my undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education and Developmental Psychology at Wheelock College. As a first-generation college student, I took my studies very seriously, and made a promise to myself to advocate for quality public education whenever and wherever I could. For the first two years of my undergraduate studies, I served in an AmeriCorps program called Jumpstart for Young Children – an early education organization that seeks to close the kindergarten readiness gap. I served in Roxbury, Massachusetts with 20 preschool children, where I implemented literacy, language, and social-emotional curricula along with five other young women on my team. My passion for advocating for quality learning opportunities for children grew during these years of service and has inspired me to continue pursuing my educational journey with City Year New Hampshire.
In May of 2018, I graduated from Wheelock with a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and Developmental Psychology along with an initial license to teach Pre-K-2nd grade with and without disabilities in the state of Massachusetts. Having already served with AmeriCorps, I was lucky to have heard of City Year and its mission to help close gaps in high-need schools. I knew that after graduation, it was the next best step for me as an aspiring educator. One of the reasons I chose to serve with City Year after college was to gain more classroom experience with students before stepping out into the teaching world on my own. While others have questioned my choice to serve, asking, “Why not just go and get a lead teacher position?” I could not be more thrilled with my decision. I believe that City Year is meaningful for licensed educators like myself.
CYNH has helped me grow as a professional by providing me with a unique opportunity to effectively coach my ELA focus list students. At the start of the school year, the CYNH staff was intentional and strategic about providing extra literacy training for the licensed teachers in our corps. Specifically, myself and three other AmeriCorps members were trained in the Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) reading program. LLI is an intensive, small-group literacy intervention program for K-12 students that struggle with reading and writing. In this program, there are leveled books accompanied by word work and a scripted curriculum that meet the needs of struggling readers. This intervention was designed to help students achieve grade-level expectations in reading by focusing on deepening and expanding comprehension, encouraging student engagement and exposure with daily reading, and elevating overall literacy learning through fast-paced lessons to maximize student growth.
Each day I pull two separate groups of students for LLI: one group of three and one group of four and implement the curriculum to help students reach grade level expectations in reading. Over the past two months, I have noticed a positive shift in their attitudes toward reading and have watched their excitement grow with each new story. It is so exciting to hear “Miss Cusano, we have reading group today, right? I want to see what our new book is going to be!”
This shows me just how important this time is for them, and that they are developing a newfound love for reading. When one student struggles, others in the group are quick to lean over and help their friend decode a word, or to remind them to “read like you are the character.” The skills they are learning through this intervention have truly elevated their confidence in their ability to be successful when reading. Currently, both groups are working on getting ready to perform short literary plays for the rest of our class and have gotten so into their characters that they have suggested we make costumes and props to make the stories come alive!
I am so grateful that CYNH has given me the tools to effectively coach my ELA students, and positively impact their literacy skills. I am confident that serving in Manchester this year will help me refine my skills as a licensed educator by giving me more hands-on experience. City Year has been an asset for both my personal and professional growth, and I know this service year will continue to prepare me to have my own classroom in the future. I am excited to learn more and see what the rest of the school year has in store for me and my students!
If you or someone you know is interested in serving a year with City Year, get in touch with a local recruiter! Our next application deadlines are January 25th and March 1st.