By Niki Navarro, AmeriCorps member serving on the Henry Wilson Elementary School Team.
“Hey, hey super class!” Miss Vadala chants to the class. “Hey, hey super yes!” the classroom responds. This attention grabber is how most of our days start with (what we call) our third-grade angels here at Henry Wilson Elementary School. Miss Vadala’s third-grade classroom is spacious, bright and packed with 25 rambunctious eight and nine-year-olds. We are an “isolated” classroom as we are the only third-grade classroom on the first floor of the school. However, the location is optimal for pulling groups because our classroom is also in the large corner of the first floor.
Back in August, when I was placed into a third-grade classroom for the service year, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, let alone how to interact with a bunch of eight-year-olds. I recall the first project my partner teacher and I worked on together was re-arranging the class desks and sorting folders in the hot summer heat. We discussed with excitement how we both attended the University of New Hampshire and discussed some initial expectations and understandings about my role in the classroom. Little did I know that nearly seven months later, there would be magic about our room. There is a love that each student feels in the classroom and there is a love that each student brings to us.
There is a quote that says, “sometimes the thing your students need most has nothing to do with what’s on your lesson plan.” The greatest strength my partner teacher has taught me is the importance of creating deep and meaningful relationships with the students. Understanding where these kids are coming from and learning about their families has really created special bonds where even typically tough students feel heard and understood. We work hard in our classroom to teach our challenging students how to advocate for themselves. There have been times that some lessons get pushed to the next day because the students are completely engaged with writing a story. I remember spending extra, unplanned time in math working on their design projects because the interest was great and positive. When the class is struggling with getting along and being kind to one another, Miss Vadala initiates "class interventions" that typically result in students creating action steps to create a safer environment. What makes these interventions a bit different, however, is Miss Vadala explicitly asks the students how she and I can help them to be successful in the classroom.
The connections I have fostered through my partner teacher’s modeling has changed my life. Focusing on the students' personal life and emotions has helped me to cater to the way I tutor successfully. The partnership that we have built has played a tremendous role in my success with and love for City Year work. We discuss troubles in class, how we can make things better and the various needs of our students. I am very grateful for the collaborative and independent work I can do alongside her in the classroom.
Looking back now, I cannot believe how fast the year has flown by and how much I have learned and grown. From laughing, counseling, working together and spending obscure amounts of time rearranging the classroom, I could not ask for a better partner teacher for where I am now and where I was coming into this service year. What worried me most was if I had the ability to create meaningful connections with students, and now I would say it is my greatest strength within my role. I very much look forward to the remainder of the year in this class and seeing how we can end the year strong, improved, and as a kind and respectful bunch of incoming fourth graders.
If you or someone you know is interested in serving a year with City Year, get in touch with a recruiter today! Our next application deadline is April 19th.