Written by Anthony Vazquez, AmeriCorps Member, Clyde Arbuckle Elementary School
Five months ago, when I began as an AmeriCorps member for City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley, I remember sitting through a series of trainings and discussions. I remember one in particular—a discussion about what role we were going to be serving for our students. Many different ideas were thrown out by AmeriCorps members: a teacher, a coach, a mentor, a friend, a guide, etc. Utlimately, the corps came to a consensus that the biggest role we would serve for our students would be as mentors. In my time working at Clyde Arbuckle Elementary School, my understanding of what it is to be a mentor has greatly evolved.
Every day, I get to school around 7:45 a.m, and leave around 6:45 p.m. During that time, I have the opportunity to interact with many unique students in different situations and environments. One of the first things I do every day is help a combination 1st/2nd grade class. It’s a pretty great way to start my day, since everytime I walk into the door the students’ faces light up and yell out, “Mr. Anthony!” Or, “Mr. Anthony’s here!”. During my time in the classroom, I help the students practice reading in an effort to improve their fluency. Some students come over to me and look so eager to continue the reading we were working on, and sometimes I get the chance to work with them one on one. I once got the opportunity to help one of my 2nd grade students, Angel, practice his spelling words for an hour so he would pass his spelling test the next day [image1]. He ended up getting 9/10 on the practice test I gave him. Seeing these bubbly kids always puts me in a good mood.
I then spend the rest of the school day doing lunch support and tutoring 9 fourth and fifth grade students in literacy. This leads into the time of day where I get the most interaction with my students—Expanded Learning Time (ELT), City Year’s after school program. During ELT we provide students with homework support, engage them in STEAM lessons, and facilitate interactive activities (like making a game out of creating pseudocode for a computer program [image2]). We are with students for four hours a day, five days a week. Everyday is different—I never know when they’re going to be in a good mood, when they’re going to behave, or when they’re going to like the lesson. Regardless, City Year AmeriCorps members are there every day with these students. We’re there to help with their homework, to help when there are squabbles amongst friends, and to help when there’s something going on at home that the students just don’t know how to deal with.
We’re also there with them at the end of the day—when there’s only 10 minutes left in ELT and we get to just sit down and talk with them. Or when, at the end of the day, a parent is running late and there’s just one student hanging out with our team. Here [image3], you see one of our first graders at Arbuckle, Ulises, whose mom was running late one day. So at the end of the day, he circled with us. And this is what he saw: Mia [right], an AmeriCorps member who is never afraid to be silly in order to connect with her students. He saw David [left], an AmeriCorps member who always makes sure he is fulfilling his duties so that students benefit as much as possible. He saw Andrew [middle], a Program Manager who interacts with the students at Arbuckle any chance he gets. Essentially, he saw around him a group of people who care for him, his education, and his well-being. He saw a group of people who are there every day to greet him, to help him with his homework, to play with him on the playground, to make sure he develops as a good citizen, and to support him in any struggles he may have.
At the end of the day, that’s what being a mentor is all about. Looking out for the well-being of those you mentor, and making sure they are being the best possible version of themselves. Being a mentor through City Year, you get to meet and influence the lives of dozens of students. As a mentor, you meet some pretty incredible kids, and I feel very lucky to have met such extraordinary elementary school students here in East Side San Jose.