Written by Antara Nader, an AmeriCorps member serving at San Antonio Elementary School

“When I grow up I want to be an engineer,” says Jorge. “Learning about engineering made me to want to make new things for people to use.”  

Jorge is one of my third graders in my after school class at San Antonio Elementary School in East San Jose.  As part of City Year’s STEAM curriculum, which integrates Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, the third and fourth grade “Elephants” have most recently been learning about the engineering design process.  Everyday students in the afterschool program have one hour of time devoted to enrichment in these subjects that they might not get to explore during the school day, often involving hands-on projects and experiments.  Jorge says that his favorite day at City Year so far was when his class built towers, competing for the height and strength of their structures.  

This is City Year’s second year at San Antonio, one of thirteen other schools in East San Jose’s Alum Rock Union School District.  I joined City Year right after graduating college.  After spending four years discussing social justice everyday in the classroom, I was eager to actively engage with the issues that I care about on the ground.  I became a City Year AmeriCorps Member because I believe that education touches all forms of inequality that we see in our society today, and that social change demands justice for our students.  Like most under-resourced, inner city public school districts across the United States, Alum Rock’s student body is predominantly low-income students of color, many of whom are first or second generation immigrants.  While this population is arguably one of our most vulnerable, they are often concentrated in our most underfunded school districts that cannot afford the human support necessary to help each student graduate on time.  In the face of the failures of our larger education system, as an Americorps Member, I strive to be an additional force in my students’ lives that recognizes and encourages their unique potential. 

Both Jorge and his younger sister are enrolled in City Year’s after school program this year.  Jorge tells me that so far he’s really liked it because even though it’s academic, he has a lot of fun.  Although Jorge’s favorite subject in school is math, he says that he has really loved reading Harry Potter this year - a book that the third grade teachers incorporated into their curriculum after agreeing that it was an important source of cultural knowledge for all their students.  “I really like Harry Potter because nothing about it is real,” Jorge explains.  “Also because Harry is able to escape from his aunt and uncle and go to Hogwarts.”  

This year the world of Harry Potter has come to life at San Antonio, as the third grade teachers and students bring the spirit of Hogwarts into their own school.  Emblems of the four houses of Hogwarts hang over the four third grade classrooms, and if you walk down the hallways, you will see student work such as drawings of their own “Mirror of Erised,” based on the mirror in Harry Potter that will display what you desire most.  In Jorge’s drawing, he drew himself traveling the world, a dream that he hopes to realize when he grows up.  Currently Jorge’s photo hangs outside of Ravenclaw’s door, in which he is dressed head to toe in wizard’s robes.  Smiling from beneath his wizard's hat--wand in his hand--the photo celebrates him as this month’s class prefect.  

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